Monday, January 23, 2012

Quilty Makes This World: 12 Tricksters (CinemArchetype #1)

This post commences a series on Jungian archetypes in film and media, wherein we gather an assortment of characters, icons, and public figures who all fit the same functional mold, the better to unravel our iconographical lexicon. The first archetype celebrated here on Acidemic is, naturally, 'The Trickster' for he is the most psychedelic. Just ask Ken Kesey or Timothy Leary, if they weren't dead....Trickster makes this world (by Lewis Hyde).

For sake of polarization of type we've limited this to males, but of course the trickster is by nature beyond gender, beyond personal gain as well. He lives in a state of identity flux, bound to no one persona (though perhaps he can be in service of an abstract cause, like 'the paper') and is seldom on the level as far as sincerity and yet this allows him perhaps greater leeway in his altruistic ambitions, for he need gratify no urge, for him there there is no one persona to 'want' anything. You are most likely to meet him on the road to knowledge, and if a trickster helps you on your way, be grateful but not indebted. And beware: for every two or three favors he gives, one wry screw-over is guaranteed. But you can't just walk away after two favors, what if the third is legit, too? Dude, turns out none of them are favors, they're gin and tonics. He'll confuse the simple and clarify the incoherent, and never justify anything, let alone means or ends. Take Elliot Gould's doctor in MASH for example,who seamlessly incorporates an operation on the child of a prostitute into his Tokyo boondoggle and just as effortlessly employs blackmail of the resident officer to make it happen. He expects no reward from the mom and brooks no condemnation from the Army, he demands neither a freebie nor accepts a guilt trip; he doesn't think ahead or crave validation - he's just a dancer in the Shiva flame. That's a trickster.

1. Peter Sellers as Clair Quilty - Lolita (1962)
"The woman always goes for the trickster, because he cannot be shamed; he is too transparent, always able to drop his 'story' the moment it gains any weight, embodying instead a series of roles each easily discarded for the next. The James Mason types by contrast inevitably resort to violence, for they presume their warped idea of dignity and ownership is an essential right, worth killing over, no matter how abstract. They feel justified in the use of firearms against the trickster who mocks them — and in the 1960s it was because the repressed guy was closeted, or abused, or a mélange of the two like in Bertolucci's The Conformist. The trickster's game involves exposing these straightedge characters for the damaged bullies they are, and so they can't help but leap across the mess hall table and start strangling Donald Sutherland (Burns in MASH) or shooting Quilty, so we realize the whole time said losers have been festering in their self-made prison of masochistic desire. But even here the trickster's power is healing and transforming — his opponent's straightedges have been rounded off against their will. Maybe after some time in the booby hatch, Burns will learn to smoke pot and lift weights in his garage, like American Beauty or get a motorcycle like in Wild Hogs!" (All Tomorrow's Playground Narratives)
2. Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice (1988)
"Instead of accepting 'the fate' as is, Beetlejuice attempts to create his own rules. Beetlejuice's ostracism is the result of his anarchic 'supernatural' politics; his mindless rebellion against any mediocrity (both worldly and underworldly) and, ultimately, his powerful unpredictability."-- Helena Bassil-Morozow, The Trickster in Contemporary Film (Routledge)
3. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) 
The meta-textual similarity of Joker's burning money scene to the wasteful expenditure of the film's vast budget and its justification via huge box-office profit -- all for what amounts to a big loud explosion of nothing -- is eerily prescient. Dark Knight pays lip service to how "Gotham needs a hero" but it's just a really a big, loud, leftist version of Death Wish, with our sympathies reversed. When Joker sets fire to his half of the money we can imagine Batman rushing in to save it, cradling it in his arms and screaming to the sky: "Damn you, Damn yoooou!!"In this one scene, Joker proves he's the only truly sane man in Gotham, the only "true" soul in this dark mess, the only one with inner Zen stillness and joie de vivre; the only one not hypnotized by his or her "life story." No matter how harshly he's screamed at (Batman growls and shouts until he's hoarse), the Joker never loses his mellow-gold cool; he's already at peace with himself and his mania. He's in the flow like one of those old drunken masters in the Shaw Brothers films. (see: "Burn your money!")
4. Groucho Marx
"Let me know when you want to be attacked and I'll be there five minutes later to defend you."
5. Bugs Bunny
"Bugs Bunny gets a charge out of driving people crazy. And that may be why he lasts. He doesn't seem like a character of the '40s, but rather a character of today. His wisecracking, gender-bending, anti-authority antics broke ground long before punk rock, or David Bowie, or Jerry Seinfeld. He's impossible to pin down in any specific sense."  --J.J. Sutherland, Trickster, American Style
6. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
"Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly, stupid."
7. Eli Wallach as Vacaro - Baby Doll (1956)

Vacaro wins Baby Doll via a constant ebb and flow of masculine aggression, a flow that pushes her boundaries and then moves back a bit to let her catch her breath. He chases her but when she stops running, he stops chasing. When she chases him, he runs. Genuine play is introduced into the mating ritual, letting Baby Doll assume a more pro-active role. Once he has her where he wants her (trapped on an attic beam) instead of demanding sex he forces her to sign the statement against her husband; she's disappointed. Why this film outrages the Catholics may lie more in this area than in the idea of a man obsessed with an "under-developed" woman (Baker doesn't seem the least bit under-developed, merely inexperienced). There's an implicit notion in code-sanctioned romance that the sex must be dealt with quickly - one dissolve between a kiss fade-out and a cigarettes-in-full-dress afterwards-- and then move on with the story. BABY DOLL lives in the twilight realm of that fade-out. The "did they or didn't they" ambiguity is allowed to drive the censor stand-in (Malden) to a point of sweet insanity. --The Tell-Tale Dissolve

8.Robert De Niro as Conrad Brean - Wag the Dog (1997)

And it's most certainly NOT about the B-3 bomber.
There is no B-3 bomber.
I just said that! There is no B-3 bomber. 
I don't know how these rumors get started!

9. Elliot Gould as Trapper John  - MASH (1970)

You can't even go near a patient until Col. Merrill says its ok
and he's still out to lunch.
Trapper John: 
Look, mother, I want to go to work in one hour.
We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's
chest and get out to the golf course before it gets dark.

10. Cary Grant as Walter Burns - His Girl Friday (1944)

Walter Burns
Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband
that didn't want to see his home broken up.
Hildy Johnson
What home?
Walter Burns: 
"What home"? Don't you remember the home I promised you?

11. Roy Scheider as Dr. Benway - Naked Lunch (1991)
 "You'll see how elegantly this works (he mixes black powder into water or juice for Bill to drink). The black will disappear completely. There'll be no smell, no discoloration. It's like an agent, an agent who's come to believe his own cover story. But who's in there, hiding, in a larval state. Just waiting for a time to hatch out."
12. Max Von Sydow - The Magician (1958)

Bergman's film itself refuses to guess whether Sydow's character is a poor beardless blonde actor begging alms for his attempt to entertain and terrify, or the actual mystical creature he appears to be in the beginning and by the end. Even the embittered empiricist for whom most of it all is being performed can't tell which if either are the act, but he's at least wise enough to see that the denuded magician / beggar is just another persona. There is no 'single' true self with him.


  1. the trickster must have stolen #3

  2. Yeah,.... um. I meant to do that? Cuz I'm a... trickster.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Behind the most grandiose plans lies a fool!!!

  5. Wait, what?!? Sutherland was Hawkeye. You had me going there.


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