“The Artist”: a case for killing George


I’m talking about the Oscar-studded film, The Artist.  If you’d rather not know…

  • why it won “Best Film”
  • why it didn’t deserve to win    and…
  • why it would have been better if George Valentin had blown his head off…

then get back to work on your novel and we’ll see you next week.

The Artist, an overview

Silent movie star, George Valentin, makes a stand against the coming of talking pictures.  George believes passionately in silent movies, and it’s a belief system that refuses to die.

Good characters have belief systems that refuse to die.  But die they must! 

Who wants to watch a movie about a hero whose philosophies (dogmas, principles, whatever you call them) out-muscle his will to live?  Imagine being dictated to by strategies that are outmoded yet fatally entrenched.  This happens.  People’s minds prevail over their evolution as more omnipotent beings.  How depressing. 

How tragic! 

George Valentin presents a classic case of a belief system under attack.  He’s a silent movie god—then along come the talkies.  He digs in his heels because silent movies are… well… they’re Art.  Sound ruins everything.  But sound sells tickets.  Alas, George isn’t buying it at all. 

Why The Artist won

The Artist presents a rare and graphic example of a character struggling against his habitual belief system.  Half way through the film, George Valentin would appear to have nothing to live for—no job, no girl, no money, no fans.  Yet he refuses to believe that silent movies are dead. 

With half a movie left, what else can the script writer take away from George?  Lots.

His comb, his razor.  His self-discipline, self-respect, self-esteem.  From the look of that gun barrel in his mouth, George hates himself. 

This is why The Artist won—the film devotes half its length to stripping George down to self-loathing.  You can’t do better than that.  A gun in his mouth—Wow—that’s the dead-end of all dead-ends.  I loved it!

Audiences pay to vicariously experience utter failure—because they are nourished by the subsequent resurrection.    

Why The Artist didn’t deserve the Oscar

George is saved by a third party, that’s why.  Deus ex machina, of all things.  The writer eroded his protagonist’s belief system, but not far enough that George let go of it.  Had he released his grip, he would have fallen into the blessed hell of total darkness where aspects of his higher nature would have become available. 

But George is saved by…someone else.  No!  That’s melodrama.  He’s handed a resolution by some starlet who is operating from another belief system.  No!  George was so very close to an  answer. 

And as the story fades to black, viewers are entertained—but not nourished as they might have been.

Why George should have pulled the trigger

Had our hero blown his brains out, we would have learned something about the human condition—that belief systems can be stronger than a person’s will to live.  That’s tragic.  

Tragedy: a drama in which the protagonist’s belief system holds firm unto suicide. 

(I feel ill…because it happens.)

No way that the writer could have ended The Artist on such a dark note.  The tone of the film was fun and upbeat.  But George’s death would have taught us the sad truth about the tyranny of a belief system. 

Instead we got to watch him dance a duet.  Man, he sure can dance.

Sorry to have spoiled the movie for you.  But then what did I really spoil?  I spoiled a movie that was already spoiled.

Oh, and another reason why The Artist won the Oscar—because Hugo and The Tree of Life are spoiled too, each in their own way. 

I so enjoy talking about movies, I might just further spoil them, too.

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  1. Yvette Carol says

    I haven’t seen the film, however, from a purely writer’s point of view… I thought it was like a cardinal rule, that whatever the ‘question’ posed at the start by the protagonist, he himself had to find the ‘answer’? That’s the way I would have looked at it. Your way of looking at the unravelling of belief systems adds more depth to my whole outlook….
    Yvette Carol

  2. says

    The protagonist’s “question”… or her desire… it gets her out of the house. It sets her on the road. But “desire crucifies us,” as Muriel Barbery says in “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. Any question that comes out of a protagonist’s mouth in the beginning is part of her belief system. If it’s a deep question, then it’s going to lead her to stuff buried more deeply. A protagonist has to believe strongly in her belief system and in all those questions. That makes her sincere, determined, and courageous. But it’s all in aid of driving her to frustration, and to seeing that it’s all just a mental construct. That’s the way we all live — by belief systems — but the most courageous among us follow our hearts all the way to seeing how bogus are these strategies we live by. The less courageous go home and ask more questions. I’m glad you’re getting into this, Yvette, because not everyone is going to find this intriguing enough to explore. Cheers.

  3. says

    Well…PJ…seems you have whole section on ‘Why George Should Have Pulled the Trigger.” Here’s my take on this movie that got the Academy all worked up. My theory: It was ‘different’–that’s all. And just like blogs and tV programs, that tends to sell–at least for a while…But check out my commentary at http://biddybytes.com/?p=9959

    And Thank you for the auto prompt that puts in http:// in Comment section. Do you know how many times I grimace whenever these different sites exploit those differences, kicking back our efforts…Your avoids any problem in leaving out, wondering “What’s wrong here?”

  4. says

    Now, I must get a Gravatar….Got any suggestions? Is one better than another? I said recently on another site–I’ll have to get an avatar…That went over well. I have a post, too, on my site, of me flying over the treetops–as an avatar–at Navitat (try saying that all at once!), in Asheville…You know, those places where one jumps off a treetop platform and flies through the trees…

    I need a Gravatar…Can you point me in right direction. Too many choices.

  5. says

    Colleen… I’m not an expert on these techno-questions. So I’m just going to put the call out. Anybody able to help Colleen?!

  6. says

    “Had our hero blown his brains out, we would have learned something about the human condition—that belief systems can be stronger than a person’s will to live. That’s tragic. ” –

    so well said, nice to have a delineation for tragedy via belief systems and change –

    very interesting 😉 thanks pj!


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