I have just watched a so called mocumentary by Casey Affleck – a film about a character named Joaquin Phoenix who goes through a serious crisis in his life. I was not able to watch it earlier – I have had a lot of respect for the real Joaquin Phoenix’s work for years, and I think I needed this whole turmoil around making this film to calm down a bit before I could finally see it for myself.
The story is said to be staged from the beginning to the very end – well, I take it for a true statement. I will never know whether the creators aimed it to be a documentary at first, a documentary that turned out to be a record of Mr. Phoenix’s disastrous loss of identity and an overwhelming breakdown – and after they realized what had happened they decided to do some adjustments and inform the world it was just a staged hoax, a cinematic experiment, nothing that happened for real. OK, whatever it was I’m fine with that.
This film, despite being technically very much amateur (on purpose, I suppose) is interesting on many levels to me. First it shows a ‘backstage’ life of a famous actor who is also a celebrity – a life that one could imagine should be full of glamor, beautiful women, nice, elegant, luxurious parties, etc. – but what we get here is a miserable existence of someone caught in his own loneliness, obsessions, pain, egocentrism, and lack of logical reasoning. Someone who is in desperation and despair. He seems to have it all, yet he has nothing. In my personal view we can see here a mixture of vanity and ambition, of some serious search for meaning, identity, and relief, and maybe even for love in a spiritual sense. It’s a cinematic warning not to take oneself too seriously.
The main character has been acting for most of his life, but despite the enormous success he achieved, the man feels empty inside – he lost his true self on the way, he longs for something that would feel right – something he can’t even find a name for. He lives his life caged in his own, miserable mind. Wherever he goes he stumbles across invisible barriers of his own emotional limitations, pretenses, addictions, and the inability to see clearly.
This man is a mess who cannot figure out the way out. The character’s aim is to manage a successful transition from the world of acting into the world of rap music – but despite his professional contacts, despite the support he gets from his freaky friends/assistants (it’s actually very surprising he has any) – the man is unable to act in a collected way, he has no reasonable plan, he’s impatient, rude, and has very childish, very demanding attitude towards anyone who surrounds him, and towards life – he seems to have difficulties understanding that the world does not revolves around him.
Watching this mocumentary I had an impression that the only medicine for the main character would be to get himself out of his selfishness – if only he could find someone a lot more miserable than him, if only he engaged himself in helping others finding their ways out – he would be a lot better. But he’s not looking for solutions of such kind. His self obsession and anger kill his spirit and creativity.
What I can understand here very well, though is his need to start anew, this search for his true self, for a new expression that would resonate with his personal vision. Such searches, however are very difficult because the process involves quite often a reconciliation with the past, with whatever brings pain, unforgiveness, etc. It requires strength, integrity and some humbleness.
There’s one more thing the main character has a problem to cope with as well, mainly: being an actor is a profession, not a definition of who you are. He associated himself with what he is doing for a living and this is his mistake. While watching I was asking myself – why wouldn’t he stay in the movies, earn his nice salary, and recognition, and do music as a liberating hobby? Why would he need so desperately to be recognized and successful in his new endeavor – all at once? Was it just a pure pride, an enormous ego?
Regardless of the answer, I am happy this film is said to be just a massive hoax. Watching this madness happening on the screen is quite disturbing (on the other hand the whole idea is so mad that actually turns itself into a comedy at times). I must admit that Casey Affleck did a very good job here, taking the viewer step by step into the world of a wretched man, where nothing is what it seems.
The hoax is over now. What a relief! I am happy Joaquin Phoenix is back, doing well, and hopefully will carry on like that for years to come.