Rant of the Day: It doesn’t matter whether “I’m Still Here” is fake or not.

When I saw the trailer for Casey Affleck’s film about Joaquin Phoenix’s “lost year,” I was excited. I finally got around to watching his disastrous interview with David Letterman when he revealed that he was retiring from acting to pursue a rap career. I read as much as I could about the film, either intrigued by what appeared to be the equivalent of a human train wreck or the murmurings that this would be another film in the “is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-documentary” sub-genre. And then the movie was released, critics and the public were either indifferent to the film or hated it, and before I even got the chance to buy a ticket, the news had broke that the film was a “hoax.” And just like that, nobody cared anymore. Or worse, they were pissed off.

I’ll admit, when the news broke that it was a hoax, my interest in seeing the film evaporated. Not because it was fake (fyi…most movies are) but because it had been spoiled. Affleck gave away the climax [punch-line?] of his experiment because audiences couldn’t handle it. The gist of his reasoning was that he and Phoenix were surprised when people were offended or disgusted by the film that they came clean to avoid an angry backlash. The result? Another angry backlash.

Let’s just run through some quick facts about this whole fiasco:

1. Joaquin Phoenix retires from acting, lets his hair and beard grow out, says that he’s becoming a rapper and then disappears for a year.

2. Everyone makes fun of him. Whether he’s the punch-line on a late-night talk show, a mention in a conversation to that “crazy Joaquin Phoenix”, or Ben Stiller dressing up as him at the 2009 Academy Awards, Phoenix was a joke. And nobody knew it was a hoax yet.

3. He actually disappears. Before the trailer for the film came out, I would say that everyone (myself included) totally forgot about Phoenix. I mean, he’s crazy right? Giving up his award-winning acting career to become a terrible rapper? So we all moved on to the next thing. Lindsay in jail again? Great, I’ve been waiting for some new material.

4. The documentary premiers at TIFF to a shocked audience. Everyone collectively thinks: Wow, we’re kinda assholes for making fun of this guy. I mean look…he’s doing cocaine with strippers and crying in a public park. Or the cynical few in the back of theater think: What a sham. Look at the camera angles. The editing. This is a fake.

5. The reveal of the hoax and the outrage that ensues. The backlash over the film is ironically similar to stage one: we think of Phoenix as an idiot. He’s a punch-line [er…punching bag?] again! Letterman rips him apart to the cheers of the audience. I mean, how dare that bastard confuse us by not actually being crazy and then coming out with a movie where we sympathize with him for his supposed craziness. What an asshole.

So essentially, we’re pissed off because when we thought he was crazy, it was a minor-league sport for everyone to make fun of him. And it was fun, to make light of someone else’s follies. But then we quickly forgot about him, and moved onto the next target.

In interviews, Affleck mentioned that the film was conceived as a way of examining celebrity culture, or something along those lines. It’s interesting how the Joaquin Phoenix thing was an assumed prank, at least for awhile, but then it went on too long, uncomfortably so that people just avoided talking or mentioning the thing altogether. So what people are really angry about is not that it was a hoax, but that because it was, we wasted months of time trying to be sensitive about it.

At first I thought revealing that it was a hoax so soon was a major error on the filmmakers’ part. And then after reading about everyone’s reactions, I realize that it’s genius.

The film’s not going to make any money, but it will become the cult film that Joaquin Phoenix is remembered for. And I think it’s a legacy he should be proud of.

It doesn’t matter whether “I’m Still Here” is fake or not–because our reactions were real. And 90% haven’t even seen it.


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