October 23, 2004

starving artist

There's something to be said about an actor who loses and/or gains weight for a part. Exactly what is to be said is the tricky part. Sure, Tom Hanks was impressive in his metamorphosis from middle-aged average-Joe to scruffy, lean castaway. So what?

I am so over entertainment show hosts lauding Renee Zellwegger on her "heroic" weight gain for the Bridget Jones series ("Renee, isn't it terribly difficult to pack on so much pudge?"). And people still go ga-ga over Robert DeNiro's transformation in Raging Bull as if it were the Second Coming. And Adrian Brody in The Pianist... give that man an Oscar!

I will give these artists the benefit of the doubt - it takes discipline to adhere to a protocol designed to lose the excess weight, or to (gasp!) eat enough Krispey Kremes to appear a slovenly thirty pounds overweight. But come on, if I was being paid well-over six-digits to have my tailor-made meals delivered and my pesky personal trainer urging me onto the treadmill at 6am every morning, before spending the rest of the day shopping for smaller-sized additions to my wardrobe, I don't think it would be so grueling. Do you?

But here's where things get tricky. Christian Bale, my goodness, what have you gone and done to yourself?

click images for larger version

Above are some images of a skeletal Christian Bale, while filming his new movie The Machinist. The film is some sort of psychological thriller, in the vein of Memento, where a man has a year-long bout with insomnia and he's nearing the breaking point, both physically and psychologically. I haven't seen the film yet, so I'm not privy to some of the finer plot points, but something feels morally wrong about Bale's appearance in the film.

To be honest, I haven't quite grasped my real feelings about this. My writing this is in response to a gut reaction to the images available in the film's trailer and behind-the-scenes featurette. The first thought is, of course, "Wow! That's amazing that he got himself to look that emaciated!" But then, after further contemplation, I'm thinking, "What the fuck did he do that for?" Art? He looks like a Holocaust victim. And to what end? The appearance of reality? Bale's appearance would seem to detract from the film. I can't imagine a viewer being able to watch the film without being taken out of it by the recognition of Bale, the actor, looking so skeletal.

I was looking for interviews with the elusive Bale, trying to dig up a real reason for his extremism, and frankly there wasn't much to be found. I did find a quote from one of his co-stars, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, that resonated. She remarked (I'll paraphrase here) that she had to constantly remind herself that Christian had made a conscious decision to dwindle down to this weight - because he looked so sick that she was worried for his life.

The director of the film, Brad Anderson, mentioned that, while in the script Bale's character, Trevor, was described as a "walking skeleton", he and Bale never actually discussed the weight loss. Anderson presumed Christian would be losing maybe twenty or thirty pounds for the role, and that they would dress him up in baggy clothing and basically fake it. But when Bale arrived in Barcelona to begin filming, the director was shocked by his appearance. Christian Bale had dropped 63 pounds, taking him down to around 120 lbs.

I don't know. There are real people dying from starvation right now, and an actor taking himself down to such a disturbing level of emaciation seems, well, rude. It seems like a narcissistic stunt, to me - "Look how disciplined I am, look how dedicated I am to my craft!" But I'm certainly no one to judge, and I would probably view the film if given the opportunity. I'm just sort of ridding myself of the conflicting feelings I have about the whole thing.

Anyone have a different perspective on it? Because I'm not entirely satisfied with my own...

posted by julie at October 23, 2004 02:00 PM