Oscars, Actors, and Living Martyrs

cocktail partySo, you’re at a party. 

Naturally, people are rattling on about “the Oscars”, everybody a showbiz pundit.  O the “insufferable inanity,” as one Globe and Mail columnist has so predictably put it.  You reckon that this ritualistic debriefing is no less insufferable, and our trash-talk nothing but fodder for it.  For the gilded monster!  You wish everyone would shut up about it, and they will, when awards season has run its inane course.  And let’s face it, we’re all complicit in this annual juggernaut under whose glittering wheels we delight in being pushed—like martyrs.

So, you’re still at this party.  If you’re going to stay any longer you’ve decided you must quit colluding.  You’d love to know why it is that we’re so compelled by the glitterati.  “Why?”  A simple question that earns you dismissive shrugs.  As if they don’t subscribe to all this superficiality.  Right. 

Jeez—you’re only trying to shine a little light on human nature.  Are the Academy Awards simply eye candy—and is that what were addicted to?—or is something deeper going on? 

You step outside to the patio for air, and you recall the way they showcased the nominees’ talent prior to each Oscar presentation.  Intense performances!  FirthAnnette Bening, Colin Firth, Natalie Portman — family crisis, major meltdown, verge of insanity.  These are the critical scenes, depictions of people trapped in various realms of hell. 

Natalie PortmanSuffering would appear to be an actor’s stock-in-trade.  Virtual suffering, of course.  And for us, the ordeal is a vicarious one, yet our emotions are real, as the occasional tear proves.

Which starts you wondering why we talk of film being an escape from life’s problems.  It certainly doesn’t tally with these medleys of anguish.  We are drawn to all this cinematic torment, attracted like the proverbial moth to the flame, as if crises somehow nourished us.  You feel you’re on to something. 

Colin Firth (The King`s Speech) wrestles his greatest fear and emerges a king.  Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) stands stalwart against benignly immoral forces that would destroy her radical little family.  And Natalie Portman in Black Swan embraces death as the doorway to perfection.  Horrors like these lie in wait for anyone committed to making the most of their life.  This we instinctively know.  Is it possible that our organism resonates deeply with these cinematic transformations?  Does it help us prepare the way for our own?

And if so, are these actors symbols of resurrection?  Living martyrs.  Alive and glittering for all they’re worth.  Is that why we treat them as demi-gods? 

You realize you’re thinking too much.  You can’t possibly engage anyone at the party with this kind of talk.  And you recall that scene in Christian Bale’s first movie, Empire of the Sun, you know the one where he’s this hyperactive ten-year-old kid in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and someone has to grab him and shake him:

“Stop it, Jim! You mustn’t think so much!  Quit thinking, Jim!  Stop thinking so much!”

And you wipe your brow with a napkin and return to the party.


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  1. says

    Now THAT was a good movie, Empire of the Sun.

    And you’re right, PJ; Stop thinking so much.

    Even Lao Tzu says as much:” Stop thinking and end your problems.”

    Certain advice to become more popular at parties.

  2. says

    Nice piece, P.J. Seems we are obsessed with celebrity, all right. Oscars, shmoskars. Isn’t that a brand of sardine? Curious what a rift there is between these wonderful actors, in their portrayals of suffering, and the inane glitz of award ceremonies and celebrity worship. Perhaps the actors, in their roles, are the scapegoats we send out into the cultural desert to expiate our sins of mindlessness.

    Now if you consider the case of Charlie Sheen. … Please don’t!

  3. says

    But, Greg, I insist… yes, Charlie Sheen. Can’t you just feel an entire culture watching to see how he comes apart at the sheems. Here we have a real-life calamity. Were he to see the light, express some true humility, and give us one small clue to his resurrection, we’d be all over him with forgiveness and adoration. We want the fallen to rise again. We want it for ourselves. It nourishes us. And thanks, Greg, for pointing out that ‘rift’ twixt the on-camera hero and the off-camera moron. It’s becoming more graphic every day…thanks to Charlie.

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