Monday, September 3, 2007

to be or not to be

TAR ART RAT and The Popeye Journals both had posts on Owen Wilson's alleged suicide attempt. TPJ talks about the stigma of mental illness.

I don't know whether Wilson did, in fact, attempt suicide and if he did I have no idea what led him to do so. I think, though, that this is something that is easily misunderstood.

As an actor Wilson faces a more extreme version of a problem we all face. A self is a set of habits; people like people to be predictable, consistent, to conform to a set of expectations. It's possible to find oneself trapped in a set of bad habits and expectations; someone who gets that close to the edge is like a train that has only two options: jumping the tracks or staying on them.

Consider the Hamlets of Gibson and Branagh. Mel Gibson had a track record as a sex symbol; Kenneth Branagh had a track record as a Shakespearean actor. In Branagh's Hamlet, we saw Branagh's yearning for what Gibson took for granted -- he'd gone blond, he'd spent months bodybuilding, here was Branagh striding the screen like a former fat girl who's reached her ideal weight. In Gibson's Hamlet, we saw Gibson's yearning for what Branagh took for granted -- the language of Shakespeare. Here was someone who'd spent years in the valley of McScripts, entranced by the glamour of the language -- giving himself the luxury of one the greatest parts ever written for an actor. To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them--

Who do you think you are, Mel? Just who do you think you are?

Eliot's Prufrock:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

When people see suicide as a sign of mental illness they want everything to go back to normal; they are often looking for someone who has been socialised to be an attendant lord or Fool to get back to the place he's been assigned. (Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged!)


Como todos los hombres de Babilonia, he sido procónsul: como todos, esclavo; también he conocido la omnipotencia, el oprobio, las cárceles. (Like all the men of Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, prison cells.)

If we had the Lottery of Babylon we would not see that particular form of mental illness: killing off the body as the only way to stop playing the Fool.


"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...
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"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

ooop, spelling. grr.

Ithaca said...

I'm not disagreeing with any of that -- I think he is someone who means a lot to a lot of people. Tom Dey, who directed Shanghai Noon and is now working on a film of The last Samurai, thought he was a comic genius, full of brilliant ideas. Hollywood probably makes it even harder than it usually is, though, to try new directions, because so much money is riding on giving people whatever has worked in the past. Having said that, though, who knows? Comedians often have a dark side, it's where the crazy jokes come from.

Language said...

Wonderful post. Inevitable copyeditor nitpick: you want the accent on the antepenult, not the penult, in carcéles.

Ithaca said...

LH -- You're quite right -- in fact, funnily enough, I pronounce it CARceles in my head. My eye must have slipped to an accented e in another line.

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...
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"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

THe shocking thing about Wilson's suicide for me was that IF he would've died -- umh, let me start over:
In High School there was Bottle Rocket. A quirky film full of dorks like us, starring the Wilson brothers, written by Own and Wes Anderson (college buddies in real life) a short which got funding to become a ful length film. Then along came Rushmore (my freshman year of college) which was n't quite like anything we'd seen- funny, depressing, clever, adolescent and grown-up all at once. THen along comes the Royal Tennenbaums, which is a goddamn masterpiece of detail and tiny homemade human pain(s) transferrrred to some sort of a real-life cartoon. Practically flawless. Owen Wilon plays a completely unbelievable cowboydrugaddictauthor with no parents. Like, even in his deepest phases of addiction all I could think of is "Jees... is he on PEZ or Pixies Sticks" - but it is great. When I first saw it it was only playing on the other side of town, so several of us ended up riding on the highway lying flat in the back of a pickup hoping we wouldn't crash or get pulled over...
ok, then there are some non-Anderson comedies Owen Wilson is in.


Shanghai Noon is actually quite - well, just damn good fun. Particularly that sequence when the Zombies song comes in "Who's your daddy..." really sticks in the mind- anyhow, wild.
If I knew where to send it I would send Owen a big "Get Well" card made with magic markers...Wedding Crashers also.
then, of course there is the Life Aquatic.
Wilson: Naieve Kentucky pilot reconnects to washed-up sea-exploring father and falls in love with pregnant woman. (!!)
I haven't seen the Darjeeling Limited, but he looks beat-up and tragic and hilarious and can't wait.
ok, having gotten that out of the way, I think the death of Owen Wilson NOW would've affected me in a similar way as the death of Jim Henson did when I was in 4th grade. This is comeone who you have been growing up with... you just don't want to see them dissappear, you don't want it to end.
I mean, I understand completely that Hollywood pressure could warp your world to such a point of no return... but I can't bear the thought of Owen Wilson and all his goodness not being around anymore!!! THe (my?)world needs Owen Wilson.