The Ultimate Oscar Cliche
The much heralded little golden man would often like to find its way into the hands of some normal person, who has gone through a lot to play a physically or mentally afflicted person. The 87th academy awards’ Best actor – male (Eddie Redmayne) and female (Julianne Moore) – winners once again confirm the traditional thinking of Academy voters. We are living era, where we are working hard to banish the terms ‘disabled person’ and ‘mentally retarded’ with words like ‘differently-abled’ and ‘mentally challenged’.
In the early decades, Hollywood had mostly ignored the plight of differently-abled person, but later the industry took sanitized approach or weaved rosy misrepresentation of those people’s affliction, which was much more pernicious. Perhaps, the Academy voters are very impressed by the preparation that goes into such roles. For example, renowned method actor “Daniel Day Lewis”, who played Christy Brown, an Irish writer and artist born with cerebral palsy, refused to come out of his character on set, and remained in wheelchair, asking others to feed him; Dustin Hoffman reportedly spent nearly a year with autistic men to prepare for his role in “Rain Man”.
Don’t get me wrong, since I’m not saying that Hoffman, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks, Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve Oscars for their respective roles, but the Oscars have become such a predictable event, where the studios are shoehorned to produce potential awards vehicle rather than coming up with a more novel or interesting script. In recent times, critics have found deplorable, where an able-bodied actor plays a feisty physically or mentally afflicted person. They call it ‘cripping up’, and compare it with Hollywood’s outdated, outrageous stereotype of ‘magical negro’. Except for Daniel’s performance in “My Left Foot” or John Hawkes in “The Sessions” (didn’t get the Oscar nomination), and some other roles, the American movies about ‘diiferently’abled’ person are ultimately bogged down by the terrible, sentimental script, which eventually tries to showcase, ‘how different would be for these afflicted person if they were able-bodied’. The word ‘disability’ is thrown around to instill an inspiration for the so-called normal person.
You could feel that there is something wrong with the Oscars, when it recognizes Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman”, Dustin Hoffman for “Rain Man”, or Colin Firth “The King’s Speech”. I feel that playing a simple character with more nuance, depth, and complexity is lot more impressive than actor showcasing the courageous face of mentally or physically afflicted person. The Oscar voters just take the performances of Eddie Remayne and Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and weigh it from the perspective of immeasurable ‘physical’ acting. If Redmayne have fully surrendered himself to the part, Keaton too have exceeded in his role that was both moving and revelatory. But, the Academy sort of gives extra points for the physical transformation.
The tour de force acting of Keaton as aging superstar ‘Riggan Thomson’ in “Birdman” is what laid the foundations for Director Innarritu’s and Cinematographer Lubezki’s artistic endeavors (both won the Oscars). On the other hand, Redmayne’s ‘disappearing act’ is the saving grace of manipulative tear-jerker “The Theory of Everything”. Perhaps, the Academy voters are still confused over what constitutes a genuine ‘transcendental performance’.