The Integrity of Joseph Chambers: A Perfect Dissection of Modern Masculinity

Dustin Waters
Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

Much like the movie that surrounds it, at the core of The Integrity of Joseph Chambers lies one question: What does it mean to be a good man?

Written and directed by Robert Machoian, the film tells the story of an insurance salesman looking to prove to himself that he could provide for his family in the face of societal collapse. To do this, Chambers (played the remarkable Clayne Crawford) sets off into the woods alone to bag his first deer. 

Chambers’s wife, Tess, tries everything she can to talk him out of the trip. She’s fully aware that he’s nowhere near prepared to carry out the task. This is the first layer of the film’s — let’s say — peeling back of the onion of modern masculinity. 

By all accounts, Chambers’ family seems very well provided for. Nice house. A caring father and husband. His wife even goes so far to point out that he’s not just an insurance salesman. He’s a damn good one. 

But since moving back to his wife’s rural hometown in Alabama to raise their kids, Chambers feels inadequate living among the locals who trek out into the mountains to bag themselves a buck to bring home for dinner. These feelings of inadequacy are heightened by the broader contemporary fear that civilization is on the brink of crumbling. So with this ticking clock in the forefront of his mind, Chambers kisses his family goodbye early one morning and sets out for a hunt. 

This begins with Chambers driving his BMW over to his buddy Doug’s house to borrow a pickup truck and a rifle. Doug has taken Chambers on a few introductory hunting trips and offers to do so the following week, but the impatient Chambers has too many upcoming work obligations. 

Chambers sets off into the woods as the sun begins to rise. He finds his way to a treestand and clumsily fumbles the rifle as he gets situated. He then proceeds to immediately fall asleep.

See, the movie is not afraid to recognize that its protagonist is completely out of his depth. After he awakes and soon grows bored, we watch Chambers amble around the forest, fantasizing about being a professional athlete and pausing to eat sandwiches from his lunchbox. 

Chambers finally spots a deer grazing in a meadow and tears off after it like a madman. The doe, of course, evades Chambers, who upon hearing a rustle in the distance, quickly jerks around and fires blindly.

This is the next layer of the onion. 

Chamber soon finds what he shot. Or, whom he shot.

Next to a tiny encampment in the middle of acres and acres of woods lie what appears to be a dead man brought down by Chambers’ bullet. Chambers first races off back to the truck in panic, leading to a gripping display of physical and mental shock by Crawford. 

Once his senses finally return, Chambers comes to a decision. He grabs the shovel and pickaxe spotted in the bed of the truck and sets off to perform the dark task of burying his victim. He even repeats to himself that this was private property, the man didn’t belong here, and the familiar argument that he was just “standing his ground.”

Welcome to the third and most shocking layer of the onion. 

In a moment that drew an audible gasp from me while watching, we see Chambers’ head poking out of the freshly dug grave, only for his seemingly deceased victim to regain consciousness. The man looks over and sees his killer standing in the grave prepared for his body. 

A rush of adrenalin overrides the pain of the gunshot wound, and the man tries to flee. He is eventually brought down by Chambers, and the two sit together exhausted in the middle of the wilderness. During the man’s final moments, Chambers explains the fear of failing his family and the comfort of knowing he could pack their freezer with fresh deer meat should society crumble. 

In the last few words he’ll ever speak, the man mocks Chambers’ plan. Because if things really do fall apart the way Chambers fears, his freezer won’t have electricity. Suddenly Chambers, responsible for killing a man who actually could have survived the end times, realizes just how ill-equipped he is.

Chambers proceeds to bury the man’s body along with his few earthly possessions and burns the rest of the evidence. The cold truth is that Chambers set out on an ill-prepared effort to hunt down an animal and ended up getting away with murder. 

Chambers imagines his return home. Dinner that night with his family. And despite the fact that he’ll likely never get caught, he decides to do the hardest thing. 

Chambers begins to exhume his victim. Pulling away mounds of dirt and wrestling dead weight from the earth, he then faces the task of dragging the body back to the truck. Chambers drives back into town and stops in front of the police station. And he confesses to his crime. 

There is no reward for this. He doesn’t get to build himself up as a savior and sole provider. He doesn’t get to bend nature based on his fears, insecurities, and selfish wishes. Despite what society sells you on what a man is, you are probably not capable of surviving its crumble. This is only about trying to be a good man in a world where it is much easier not to be. A world where your crimes are so easily ignored. And that is The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

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