Kudos to Joaquin Phoenix for the performance of a lifetime

People get duped all the time. Remember crop circles? How about the chupacabra? Just last year, we were fooled into thinking a boy in a balloon was floating over Colorado. Every once in a while someone comes along and pulls a fast one on us.

The latest tricksters are actor, Joaquin Phoenix, and director, Casey Affleck, of the documentary “I’m Still Here.” For two years Phoenix pretended to drift into obscurity, claiming he was quitting acting and pursuing a rapping career. He grew a beard, wore dark shades, and became the buzz of the town after an appearance on David Letterman’s late-night show, which left everyone thinking the actor had gone off the deep end. Now, with the release of the film, people are up in arms.

Affleck admitted in an interview that the film is a work of fiction and that Phoenix’s behavior was all part of a “terrific performance.” This behavior includes Phoenix partaking in heavy drug use, a fiasco with some hookers, and a brawl with an assistant. I’m wondering what all the fuss is about.

It didn’t take Superman’s X-ray vision to see that something weird was going on and that perhaps we weren’t being shown all the cards. I mean, here you have Joaquin Phoenix, he is one of the best actors of our time, fresh off an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” and garnering considerable attention for “Two Lovers,” and all of a sudden he wants to quit to become a rapper? Something smelled funny, and it wasn’t Phoenix’s dirty beard.

But what does it say about our society, that we were so gullible to these theatrics? Let’s face it, in the back of our minds we were thinking, “There’s another one. There’s another wild, demented celebrity getting arrested or busted for drugs. What else is new?” Was our judgment passed all the more quickly because of the unstable family history in Phoenix’s life? His famous brother, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose in 1993, and his family has often been described as a bunch of free-spirited, tree-hugging hippies.

What’s crazy, and even shame-ful, is the fact that we seemed just fine, even entertained by the faux-downward spiral of this incredibly- gifted actor. Now, certain people are disappointed, even outraged that it wasn’t true. What is wrong with this picture?

Phoenix and Affleck are cour-ageous in my book. Phoenix risked his career in his attempt to show exactly what this backlash has produced, that our culture is obsessed with “trainwrecks,” that we make people famous for doing nothing, or even worse for self-destructing, and we just gobble it up.

It’s a message certain people have been preaching for years. In the 80s, Andy Kaufman created hysteria with certain crowds when the comedian took on a professional wrestling persona who only wrestled women and hurled insults at the audiences who went to watch these ridiculous antics.

Recently, Sacha Baron Cohen and his alter-egos, Bruno and Borat, have traveled the United States instigating confrontations and shedding light on current issues that were thought of as history, but which, shockingly, still linger. Now, Affleck and Phoenix want to do the same, to shake us out of this uneducated, diluted, fast-serving society, and certain people want to throw stones at them?

In a recent interview, Affleck said, apologetically, that he didn’t think this would have such an impact. He didn’t expect all the “angry reviews,” and that he didn’t mean to “trick anybody.”  But, why apologize, Mr. Affleck?  I’m in your corner, and while I understand that you may not want to offend anyone, sometimes that has to be done.

In closing his interview, Affleck said that he admits the film is “A hard movie to watch,” because you can’t really follow and understand what’s real and what’s not. But I say, for some people, it’s probably a hard movie to watch because in the end, Phoenix is okay. He’s doing his job — acting. He’s not lying in a ditch somewhere, throwing his career away in a bottle and allowing the snooty public the opportunity to shake their head in disgust from their ivory tower, preaching about how celebrities should act more like us.

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