Tag Archives: Robert DeNiro

EXPLORING ARCHETYPES IN CINEMA

EXPLORING ARCHETYPES IN CINEMA

“All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes.” CARL JUNG

I have recently explored character names and character personas on this blog. These articles can be found here:

  1. WHAT’S IN A NAME
  2. A TEST OF CHARACTER

Now I would like to broaden the subject and have a go at defining some basic film character archetypes. My definition of this has some crossover with personas, but archetypes are not necessarily the component which make up the character – they ARE the character!

Archetypes are a common or typical shorthand; a tool writers, directors and actors can use to define character during the creative process. They are not stereotyping though. They are standardized models and structures that can be built upon to fully flesh out a character.

The archetypes I would like to consider are: Everyman/Woman, Hero, Super-Hero, Anti-Hero, Nemesis, Mentor, Sidekick and Lover/Romantic Interest. Obviously, many of these archetypes can combine, especially in more complex films, plus I’m sure there are loads of others. However, I will limit myself to these for now.



EVERYMAN / WOMAN

The staple for many, many movies is an everyman or woman or boy or girl (or gender fluid) character who is easy to relate to for the audience. It could be Tom Hanks in Castaway (2000), or Tom Hanks in Sully (2016), or Tom Hanks in basically everything – even Toy Story (1995). They tend toward the working or ordinary class with regular jobs and family units. Their stories will be everyday, or they will find themselves facing incredible situations. Alfred Hitchcock favoured everyman and woman characters who would be thrown into dangerous situations. Actors who excel in such roles include: Hanks, James Stewart, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Francis McDormand, Jack Lemmon and many more.


HERO

Many characters can begin ordinary or everyday, but over the course of a film become heroes. Luke Skywalker for instance is an bright farm kid with dreams of joining the academy. A series of contrasting events then cause his rise to discovery and heroism. On the other hand, some heroes are fully formed such as James Bond and Indiana Jones. The everyman character and hero are often combined, like with John McCLane or underdog characters such as Rocky Balboa. My favourite hero arcs are stories where the character starts in lower status such as The Terminator (1984), Django Unchained (2012) and Harriet (2019).



SUPER-HERO

So what’s the difference between a hero and a super-hero? For me the hero may be capable of incredible feats of action and endeavour, yet he or she is ultimately mortal. Thus, while they may be a super-hero on the surface, Batman and Iron Man are heroes to me; albeit mechanically improved ones. Superman, Wonder Woman and Thor, for example, have god-like powers, thus defining them as SUPER! Obviously, there are crossovers as illustrated by Peter Parker, Captain America and Captain Marvel. All of them begin as everyboy/man/woman characters and become super-heroes due to military experimentation or being impacted by incredible events which cause physical transformation.


ANTI-HERO

I love a good anti-hero. I think they are my favourite character archetype. They can be charismatic and just on the side of the righteous, but misanthropic and sarcastic like say, Wolverine or Blade. They can be on the wrong side of the law, but redeem themselves at the end of a film like Danny Archer and Han Solo. They can be outsiders or loners like Travis Bickle. They can be hard on the outside and soft on the inner like Juno. Moreover, certain actors have cornered the market on anti-heroes such as Jack Nicholson, Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. My favourite anti-heroes are often cursed with supernatural forces causing them to be trapped by certain powers. The ‘Wolfman’, Lawrence Talbot, and Carrie White are fine instances of this.



NEMESIS

Given it is pantomime season there’s no harm is looking at villains! For me the greatest villains are the ones which actually have a valid cause or point. Of course, I don’t agree with their actions as they will generally involve killing people or destroying the Earth or Universe. However, villains such as Robert DeNiro’s heinous Max Cady had valid motivation. Likewise, Thanos’ plan to wipe out half of everyone was founded on sound environmental ideology. This doesn’t make it right though. Sympathetic nemeses are also interesting like Marvel’s Erik Killmonger. Moreover, King Kong for example, begins life as a threatening monster, but ultimately ends up being sympathetic compared to man. Nonetheless, you cannot beat a good old fashioned baddie like Hannibal Lecter, The Terminator, Hans Gruber, Nurse Ratched and one of my favourites, The Wicked Witch of the West.


MENTOR

The Mentor character can take many forms. They are very valuable in supporting a hero or heroine on their adventures, plus providing vital exposition or the rules of the world information. The archetypal mentor archetype is a wise, older character like Morpheus, Alfred Pennyworth, Gandalf, Mr Miyagi, or Obi Wan Kenobi. Moreover, they will often have powers and magically assist those around them. The wonderfully helpful Mary Poppins is a great example of this. Every so often mentoring is rejected by the younger partner. A case in point being Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills eschewing Morgan Freeman’s Somerset’s sage advice with deadly results. Then again, mentoring can take a more twisted and controlling turn as seen with The Devil Wears Prada’s (2006), Miranda Priestly, and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent arthouse classic, The Phantom Thread (2017).



SIDEKICK

The sidekick is a lower status character that can be an ally, helper, friend or even enemy that also provides comic relief or dramatic tension. Different from the bromance or traditional buddy character, because that double-act dynamic is on an equal level of status. Great sidekicks include: Hermione Granger, Short Round, Robin, Chewbacca, Dr Watson and many more. Often, the sidekick actually becomes more interesting, funny and memorable than the lead protagonist. Examples of this include the brilliant Hit Girl, Igor, Donkey and the aforementioned Hermione. Sometimes the sidekick takes a darker route such as Loki and Lady Macbeth, who use their influence for evil rather than good.


THE LOVER / ROMANTIC INTEREST

So, the love interest can be a romantic extension of the sidekick but can also be a mentor and even a villain. I would differentiate the love interest character from traditional romantic comedies or dramas. For instance, in When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sally and Harry are of equal status and classed as everyman and woman archetypes. However, in James Bond films the love interest is traditionally a female conquest. More in depth love interest characters are those that are not just trophies; they become equal in the story. Princess Leia is a heroine and love interest, likewise Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Most recently, and a reflection of our progressive times, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman found a fine love interest in Chris Pine’s heroic Steve Trevor. Thankfully, the outdated “damsel in distress” stereotype is being consigned to the past and now we have characters of all backgrounds and gender represented on an equal basis.


CONCLUSION

As I said earlier this list is just an exploration of archetypes. There are a number I could have included. That stock character the wife or husband is one which always appears regularly in films. Often, they are waiting by the phone or television screen as some disaster befalls their partner. Lastly, I could have included the double-act, the team or the ensemble archetype; where one or more characters combine to create a whole. But, I think I’ll save that for another essay.



JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”

There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.

With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.



The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.

Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.



I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.

Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.


As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed, Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.

Mark: 10 out of 11



SIX OF THE BEST #3 – MOVIE NUTTERS

SIX OF THE BEST #3 – MOVIE NUTTERS

In the third episode of this occasional strand I have decided to have a look at some good old cinema nut-jobs. This was precipitated by a recent watch of David Lynch’s classic Blue Velvet (1986) which features an incredible performance from Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth.  He is, of course included here, along with five other movie loons.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FRANK BOOTH – BLUE VELVET (1986) – DENNIS HOPPER

“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont midway through David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Why indeed? We do not know why Frank is the way he is: he just is!  The drugs, shouting, swearing, sado-masochistic and psycho-sexual violence stem from the dark recesses of Lynch’s imagination; while Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling, scary and at times, inappropriately laugh-out-loud funny.

ANTON CHIGURH – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) – JAVIER BARDEM

You’d have to be a person of the highest confidence or crazy insane to sport the haircut Chigurh/Bardem does in this wonderful Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy’s neo-Western novel. Chigurh is not just a stone-cold killer but also one with a strange amoral compass and set of rules. Also, his reliance on chance and the flip of a coin as to whether someone lives or dies is even more scarier than the deadly bolt-gun he uses to dispatch his victims.

JACK TORRANCE – THE SHINING (1980) – JACK NICHOLSON

The slow demise of the isolated writer driven to kill by the demons of the past are brilliantly captured in Stanley Kubrick’s stylish and memorable Stephen King adaptation. Nicholson cornered the market on explosive larger-than-life masculine roles but here he was far more unhinged. His performance as Jack Torrance is both scary and funny, as writer’s block, the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel plus his own depression weld to send him over the edge and into lunacy and murder.

ASAMI YAMAZAKI – AUDITION – (1999) – EIHI SHIINA

To describe Asami as a nutter is a bit harsh on nutters really. Because, cutting your victims limbs, digits and tongues off, before placing them in a hessian sack is pretty extreme. A calm psychopath, Asami literally chills to the bone; however, her victims are carefully chosen men who she enacts tortuous revenge on for historical sexual abuse. This is a scary horror film that is both stomach-churning and thematically strong, delivering a damning indictment on the casting couch culture.

MAX CADY – CAPE FEAR (1991) – ROBERT DE NIRO

Robert Mitchum’s performance in the original Cape Fear (1962) deserves a mention, as does his powerhouse and menacing turn as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955); who almost made the list too. Nonetheless, DeNiro’s Cady is a marvellous cinematic creation rooted in pure bible-belt-Southern-preacher-avenging-devil-hatred. All muscles, tattoos and a sense of violent vengeance he pursues Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) and his family with an insane zeal; terrorizing them with unforgettable physical, sexual and murderous threat.

ANNIE WILKES – MISERY (1990) – KATHY BATES

Here is another Stephen King loon for your consideration. Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. She is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme; with a mania stemming from a skewed understanding of the world which is not helped by her seeming isolation. When James Caan’s author kills off her favourite literary character hell hath no fury like a mad-woman scorned! Carlsberg don’t do torture: but if they did!

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6: ROBERT DENIRO

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6:  ROBERT DENIRO

“If you don’t know Robert DeNiro – he used to be an actor.” Doug Stanhope

In a recent stand-up special Beer Hall Putsch drunken, irreverent funny man Doug Stanhope does an extended routine about Jake La Motta. During the hilarious piece he refers to Raging Bull and more specifically Robert DeNiro. As the above quote suggests DeNiro’s career in the last few years has been more akin to that of a jobbing journeyman with the occasional flash of former genius thrown in.

With forgettable roles in Grudge Match (2013), Killer Elite (2011), Showtime (2002) and many more, his C.V. reads like something Steven Seagal would be hard-pushed to be proud of. He has, it seems recently, aside from a few David O. Russell films, been picking acting roles based on scheduling and a pay-cheque rather than their artistic merits. But hey who am I to worry about a man making a few quid; we all have to pay the rent!

Yet, from a craft perspective it is worth remembering DeNiro appeared in films by some of the great directors such as: Scorcese, Bertolucci, DePalma, Mann, Tarantino and Coppola. At one stage he was the greatest ever living actor and here are SIX roles to remind us of that. It was a tough choice but these are my FAVOURITE performances of, perhaps THE finest actor of a generation.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

MEAN STREETS (1973)

Harvey Keitel is the lead character, Charlie, in this classic-early-Scorcese-urban-street-epic, but DeNiro steals every scene as the ducker-and-diver Johnny Boy. It’s a funny and violent performance containing that trademark grin, verbal dexterity and cool intensity which would become hallmarks of the young Italian’s subsequent performances. His Johnny Boy is flighty and unreliable compared to Keitel’s solid gangster-wannabe and their scenes together are a particular joy as Johnny Boy drives Charlie mad with his irresponsible nature.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Isolation and slow psychosis have never been so compelling in DeNiro’s portrayal of lonely anti-hero Travis Bickle. Schrader, Scorcese and DeNiro were young, edgy artists who delivered a character study which found Vietnam veteran, Bickle, trying to stay sane on the bleak, venal streets of New York. DeNiro bleeds desperation and desire for love and hope. Bickle so desperately tries to fit in with society and do right by people but he’s just too wired to achieve this socially. However, via mania and violence he finds redemption and the acknowledgement of the humanity he so desperately craves.

RAGING BULL (1980)

In terms of marrying both a physical and psychologically formidable performance then THIS is probably DeNiro’s finest role. Obviously he’s famous for putting on a shedload of weight for prize-fighting role of Jake La Motta, however, it’s not a gimmick to sell a film. No, the weight gain is part of the character’s arc as he moves from prime physical masculinity and deteriorates to a fat, useless mess of a man who has pushed all his loved ones away due to mounting paranoia and self-loathing. DeNiro designs a character who hates himself and others and whose ability to suck up punishment and pain is a boon to his boxing ability but detrimental to his sanity. In this performance DeNiro proves there is most certainly method in the madness; a stunning film for which the Italian deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar!

KING OF COMEDY (1983)

In this stunning, dark comedy of embarrassment DeNiro is the deluded stand-up comedian who is SO desperate to get a break he kidnaps a leading chat show host portrayed by the wonderfully jaded Jerry Lewis. DeNiro is brilliant at all forms of madness whether it be: psychos, paranoiacs or the obsessively maladjusted such as hapless Pupkin. I can identify with the character though as he is just so desperate to gain fame his persistence, if not his methods, are actually something to be admired. Not known for his comic roles generally, DeNiro is fantastically funny with his skippy walk, bad dress sense, ticks, delivery and imaginary conversations with the celebrities he so badly longs to work aside. You know what too: his stand-up comedy isn’t actually that bad either. Overall, stalking and obsession have never been so funny or painful.

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

What! No Godfather II! No Deerhunter (1978)! No Heat (1995)! And no Casino (1995). Not trying to be contrary but I love this film. It is a rollicking road movie and concerns ulcerated bail-bondsmen, Jack Walsh (DeNiro), who must take a fastidious accountant (Grodin) on a “midnight run” to ensure he testifies against a violent gang boss (Dennis Farina). Obviously, as this is a buddy movie the two “opposite” characters bicker and fight over the course of the story but eventually settle their differences and find a common bond. The pace never lets up as the two “rivals” use every form of transport possible to get across country and it was great to see DeNiro in a less serious role cutting loose with a witty and zinging script.  DeNiro brings a world weary pain and cynical humour to a great genre character film.

GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember this has always been my favourite gangster film. Scorcese, Pileggi, Pesci, Liotta and DeNiro were all on fire here in this epic ensemble character story focussing on the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again-narrative of mobster Henry Hill. Yes, Liotta is the lead and Pesci won the Oscar but DeNiro steals pretty much all his scenes as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway. His characterisation is of a charming man who is in fact a bloodthirsty yet charismatic career criminal. DeNiro’s arc shows a man graduating from lorry-jacks to masterminding one of the biggest robberies ever in American history before descending into paranoia and an aging gangster always looking over his shoulder.

DeNiro would give other commanding or at least interesting performances later in his career, for example: Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995), Heat (1995), Everybody’s Fine (2009), Jackie Brown (1997) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) but his CV since Goodfellas is, if I’m honest, very patchy. So let us not forget that he has provided some of the most memorable celluloid performances ever. Yes! I’m talking to you!