Insulate and Celebrate


In 2010, the documentary “I’m Still Here” purported to show the retirement of actor Joaquin Phoenix. In the film he is shown using drugs, ordering prostitutes and experimenting with a career in rap. Though later disclosed as a hoax or work of “performance art”, the film does display a grandiosity of self-flagellation that celebrity works so well to insulate. Despite his seemingly mental instability, Phoenix remains supported by his friends and in fact enabled by those around him.

“I’m Still Here” seems less about objective documentation and more interested in both mockery and celebration. Phoenix is the fool but one whose artistic drive takes place regardless of popular perspective. He is an actor poised for greater success but seemingly determined to look away. Is he angry with his success? Does it somehow suffocate his artistic sensibilities? Though never answered, the film displays one (fake) attempt at carving out a new artistic life in the shell of one already existing.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy displayed in this film is the hemmed in status of the actor. No matter his intentions, the public refuses to actually believe in Phoenix’s decision. Existing as a film star, the public’s definition of him seems locked in this identity. Would he be able to change careers if he was interested or is such a radical change of life impossible? Does one abandon identity with celebrity? Much remains unanswered in the film and despite its “mockumentary” status and post-production explanation as an act of humor or performance art, much remains uncertain. Is this mockery a reality and perhaps a glimpse into the shallow world we celebrate? Wherein lies the parody when such antics are both allowed to occur and celebrated by the public?

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