I did this profile for class and thought that it was fun (and interesting) – I like Joaquin Phoenix and think he’s a great actor. He was also the most interesting person on the list of Academy Award nominees this year – just because he’s different.
A year ago, Joaquin Phoenix declared that the Oscars were “bullshit” and were “pitting people against each other. It’s the stupidest thing in the whole world”. He later apologised and received his third Academy Award nomination. Not bad for the man who went on the David Letterman show and publicly announced that he was reinventing himself – as a rapper.
Phoenix’s rap career never took off – much to the relief of most of his fan base- it turned out to be an elaborate hoax inspired by his new role in Casey Affleck’s documentary ‘I’m still here’. The star made a memorable comeback in ‘The Master’, an intense film rumored to be inspired by Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It centers around Phoenix’s character, a damaged war vet who is drawn in by a charismatic leader. Phoenix was awarded the London Critics Choice award for his performance – and proceeded to suggest that Daniel Day-Lewis may have been a better choice.
Though the Academy agreed with Phoenix’s assessment, it’s hardly the most bizarre thing that the actor has done in the course of his career. Phoenix has historically shared a love-hate relationship with Hollywood and the media. Though he acknowledges that his successful career was due to the appreciation of both industries, he also has publicly stated that he hates the attention – and rarely watches films, especially his own. In an interview, he said: “Imagine being a magician, and then going to watch other magicians. Sometimes you watch crap magicians. Every once in a while you see a great one and you’re like, “Oh, fuck. That’s cool.” But as a magician, you know everything that happens, and it just takes you out of the whole thing”.
Despite that, Phoenix’s performance in the film is remarkable – even for him. He has the reputation for picking roles that are unusual to begin with, and then making them his own. His performances as the quixotic emperor Commodus and as the conflicted Johnny Cash are still lauded. In The Master, Phoenix plays Freddie, a disturbed ex-sailor, discharged for psychiatric problems (most likely PTSD). Obsessed with sex, struggling with alcoholism, Freddie is unlikable. He is incoherent, closed in and desperate – unable to hold a job, he drifts from profession to profession until he encounters Philip Seymour Hoffman, his antithesis.
Hoffman’s portrayal of Lancaster Dodd, the charming, ruthless ‘master’ is a direct contrast to Phoenix’s character. The film focuses on the relationship between the two – the lost man who meets the zealot and falls under his spell. ‘The Master’ has been praised for its in depth exploration of the beginnings of a cult – showing how groups like the Master’s with strange, almost disconnected beliefs, gather followers who are real and often troubled people.
Film critic Anisha Ravikirran says: “Joaquin Phoenix gave a characteristically good performance – but as always, it’s unsettling. Maybe that’s the problem. He’s too good at acting disturbed. At some points in the film, I began wondering how much of it was ‘Freddie’ and how much of it was the guy with overgrown hair, having a breakdown. In a way he’s sabotaged himself. That being said, he’s wonderful in that film – he’s stark, broken and neurotic in a real way. I thought the film could have been better as a whole, but he’s the reason it will garner any accolades. He owns it”.
Another aspect that should be considered is the intense feeling that Phoenix injects into each of his roles. Ravikirran says: “As Freddie, he has a sense of naivety – he is what the world has made him. And while he’s struggling to find meaning in his life, he becomes the pawn of a man with a larger agenda. Maybe one of the reasons we like Phoenix so much as an actor, despite his eccentricities, is because he’s always so raw. You always feel like he’s baring it all”.
Did Joaquin’s outspoken views cost him the Oscar for Best Actor? Probably. He’s been called everything from ‘method actor’ to ‘bat shit crazy’. Is he talented? Unquestionably. His disillusionment with ‘pitting people against each other’ may cost him awards, but probably not at the box office.