Friday, March 13, 2009

THE NARCISSISTIC MALE GAZE: It's not you, it's me, because I am You

Trying again to watch JUNO the other night, and of course failing, made me ponder the difference between the male actors I love and the male actors I loathe the way a blind man loathes the mirror. How sharply sloped is this divide, the peak of a chart of self-recognition and self-disgust projected! Some actors can cross it but few return. What does this have to do with JUNO? Exactly, my learned reader, exactly.

There's a prejudice at work in this entry which I presume is based on gender; there are very few actresses I don't adore, now matter how narcissistic they are. It's a complex that seems meant for beautiful women, not coded-straight men, but when a guy is a narcissist full-blown egoic peacock it gets right under my beautiful, soft skin.

Here are some of my major culprits. Note in advance this is not necessarily meant to be a condemnation of their skills as actors, but more in the reaction they induce in me. Thy mileage may vary:

1. TOM CRUISE - Public Enemy Number One, he's his own worst enemy with deep rooted classic alpha-wussa-male Napoleanic coded complex vanity fair. His saving grace is that he's not afraid to make fun of his own raging hard-on of a narcissism, as in MAGNOLIA and--presumably--EYES WIDE SHUT, where it's especially noteworthy in his early bedroom scenes with wife Nicole. In a married couple (onscreen and off) has there ever been such insecure, casual disinterest in the other person's body? Kidman is great, peeing with the door open and dragging her pelvis around like a ball and chain of wasted nymphotential, but Cruise is all about posing just right in the bed so as to perfectly show off his manly bicep to himself in the mirror; his hair perfect; satisfied smugness radiating out of his ever pore. He's been married to this woman long enough to have a kid (in the movie) yet still seems paralyzed by the need to show himself off to himself. But if Kubrick deconstructed him that way, to reveal the core inner spoiled brat within us all, then why do I still cringe in embarrassment, like recognizing my own base humanity in the deepening voice of my little brother?

I do appreciate his focus and attention in big action films! He can charge up your adrenalin if you let him, like a personal trainer! Gotta give him that. 

2. RICHARD GERE - He of the sophisto-Zen smugness, enjoying the beauty of his own perfect humility as he comes before us to sing and dance and perform the painfully wry smile of one who gets all the women and har run out of places to put them. He will always be AMERICAN GIGOLO to me, because that movie was in #1 at the box office when I was hitting the ghastly age of puberty. My school chums and enemies who had seen the film relayed the sordid plot line, but I couldn't see it as it was rated R and my parents were tough that way and why would I want to anyway? Still, it had done enough damage just from the slick trendsetting Venetian blinds poster and the Blondie songs which dug their way deep into my sexual coal oven and which still haven't finished burning. "Now slap her... slap her cunt!" That's all I remember when it later came on video. Since then Gere's gone out of his way to show the world how pleased with himself he is now that he's a Buddhist and humbler than us all. 

I forgive him all however, after his gamely self-mocking guest spot on THE SIMPSONS and of course his terrifying dark shadow Travolta in LOOKING FOR MISTER GOODBAR. And most of all, I forgive him because I am even humbler. 

3. ANDY GARCIA -  I've never been able to focus on a word he says, always wondering instead about what kind of hair cream he uses, and the insidious vanity that must creep in when one studies one's performing style so assiduously from a mirror that one no longer sees anything but oneself seeing. I pray this disease never befalls Nic Cage. Speaking of Coppola relations, Garcia, as I recall, got his big break in GODFATHER III, where critics noticed he was the only actor in the film who seemed to have memorized his lines. He stole the film handily, but that's no badge of honor! In the picture at left you can see his resemblance to both De Niro and John Cazale, so in a sense he was perfectly cast. If he had come of age in the 1970s instead of the 1980s, he might have rooted into the same dirty method basement which helped make Fredo and the Godfather-as-a-young-man so indelible. Instead, in true 1980s tradition, he stayed up in the master bedroom, hypnotized by the wall-length closet mirrors.

4. KEVIN KLINE - I think he's a fine actor, but Jesus Christ he's an out- of-control ham, so enthralled by his own mellifluous line readings he leaves nothing left for us, which works in a film like IN/OUT, but becomes excruciating in Shakespeare. In my humble opinion, he's too.... "obsequious"? He acts as if he's making fun of the teacher's pet in some high school acting class. But he seems like a good sport and certainly redeems himself with his role as the deceiving dad in THE ICE STORM, wherein he captures the  delusional side effects of unconscious bourgeois entitlement with a bracing honesty. And I appreciate that he takes the kids home in ANNIVERSARY PARTY so Phoebe Cates can drop ecstasy and trip all night with Jennifer Jason Leigh.

5. ROBERT REDFORD - The king, maybe even the inventor of the bland narcissist actor archetype. Too bland to say much more about. Just look at Sundance, the scourge of true independence!  Now every mailbox is stuffed with film festival invites and no one can walk down the street without some film festival swooping down on them, commercializing their every move until all is hackneyed and recycled quirky just so that the whole GHOST WORLD LITE / PRO-LIFE TEEN QUIRK POWER PUREED FOR THE TOOTHLESS BOURGEOISIE of Juno could ever have a chance to exist. 

JUNO is the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to GHOST WORLD's The Wild Bunch.

In all fairness to Redford, he seems a nice guy and did well in SPY GAME. He's rugged. He is a master of knowing when less is more. He only chokes up once, at the end of The Way We Were, and it's unforgettable. Sundance was originally strongly connected to Native American preservation or so I remember from some old NPR show my dad once had on in a car ride. And so I got the brother's back if he needs me. He doesn't; he's too lost in the majesty of his self. Was he abducted by North Korean hypnotists working for Pat Boone?

RUNNERS UP (just as bad but I don't feel like writing about them) : Ryan O'Neal, Jason Patric, Ben Stiller, Joseph Fiennes (unbearable as Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE but great in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE;  Ethan Hawke (redeemed by Julie Delpy and Linklater), Rob Lowe, Freddie Prinze, Jr., 

The men who embody the correct approach to conveying the arrogant but cool male onscreen: the Wilson brothers, Jon Voight, Clint Eastwood, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel, Damon, Pitt, Tatum, Elliot Gould, George Clooney, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Michael Blodgett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger (and all Australians), and of course... the definitive attractive non-narcissist male, Paul Newman!


  1. what a brilliant article.... and yes, daddy was a pretty perfect blend. xo

  2. Great post. Is it okay if I add Alessandro Nivola to the list of actors who are so into themselves that he renders himself virtually unwatchable? Same with Scott Caan, Edward Norton, and...ED FUCKING BURNS.

  3. how no Gallo?

  4. Vincent Gallo? He's SO much of a narcissist that it actually causes him to emerge out the other side, into total non-narcissism. I don't know how he does it. but a) his eyes are crazy enough that he can get away with anything, b) Buffalo 66 was freakin' brilliant and c) he's hung like a goddamned thermos, which doesn't mean much on the surface, but it helps his aura. He's got genuine artistic depth to back up his surface bullshit as opposed to the vice versa of this list, Gallo's is the aura of tarnished gold, while the guys on this list are all highly polished aluminum.

  5. Tony Perkins a narcissist? Do tell. He's probably the best thing in Catch-22, where he's about as far from a narcissist as I can imagine.

  6. Yeah, nothing against Tony Perkins or Bruce Dern, but they both have that unnerving quality of narcissistic outside perception (they're perhaps watching themselves in their mind's eye from the imagine angle of the stage or camera) I think their both great actors, but there's no escaping it, hence their usual roles. When Perkins tries to be something else, like confident, it's invariably false seeming, like his initial sweetness with Marion. Obsequiousness!

  7. Very good article, but I have to disagree with Robert Redford as being bland, He's very, very understated and even when Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro could REALLY act, they never acheived the sutlety of Robert Redford.

    BTW, did you mention Al Pacino as the Grandaddy of all Narcissists, Holy sh-t!!

    1. Agree about Al Pacino. Just look at his track record with women. It is all about him. But Redford being subtle? Cold, uninteresting, looks like he is always judging others negatively...he ruined Out of Africa and any other movie he has been in.

  8. Thanks for your comments, Ann, I just re-read it and no, I didn't mention Al Pacino as the grandaddy of narcissists... and I appreciate you sticking up for Robert Redford, maybe he moves you and is subtle and understated, maybe I missed it, but I couldn't look very deep at a Redford performance without wincing.

    I'd like to shout out for Tom Cruise in the meantime, whom I adored in TROPIC THUNDER! He and Matt Mconaghey stole the show, and in the meantime, I would add another narcissist I forgot all about, the Insecure Narcissist, Ben Stiller.

  9. Amazing article .truth finally about the people we all love to watch!

    Lovely article written with so much cerebral power.

    Would like to know if you consider checking
    Val Kilmer ,Johnny Depp,Will Smith,I feel they are big N's.

    Yes Paul Newman is the attractive non-narcissist what about Brendan Fraser and Leonardo Di Caprio?, I think they convince us they are not narcissist maybe they have a bit childlike inncocence!

  10. Anonymous16 July, 2012

    really good article. you should be a writer


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