Monday, May 16, 2011

Trash Someone's Pool With...Hesher

Hesher director Spencer Susser was definitely present the day they discussed metaphor in film class.  The story of a father and son who get a very unique houseguest while grieving over a recent loss, Hesher waxes metaphorical the whole time.

This isn't a bad thing. Metaphors for loss, grief, resilience, and moving on (and ultimately always holding on to a little bit of what you've lost) pepper the movie’s story and never overpower the rest of the film.

Paul Forney (Rainn Wilson) and T.J. (Devin Brochu) have just lost their wife and mother, respectively. Lost, angry, and grieving, the two are faced with a visitor in the form of Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a long-haired, tattooed hobo-with-a-heart-of-gold. T.J. runs afoul of Hesher while taking a shortcut through a construction site – and the unfinished building where homeless Hesher is secretly living. T.J. inadvertently exposes the bum, who flees from a security guard.  After a day or so of mildly tormenting T.J., Hesher – claiming to Mr. Forney that he’s a friend of his son – forcibly moves into his garage.

Rainn Wilson continues to impress, and the rest of the cast was great, especially Brochu, who portrays a coming-of-age and grief-stricken boy with ease, and Natalie Portman, who plays a soul-sick grocery store clerk that befriends T.J. and Hesher. It's really all about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher, of course. He spends most of the film wreaking havoc, destroying property, and being foul-mouthed and disgusting and, with a lesser actor, the character wouldn't have worked.

Piper Laurie, as T.J.’s Grandmother Madeleine, was an unexpectedly powerful component of the film. She exemplifies what it feels like to be powerless while others experience deep grief. The scenes shared between Hesher and sad and slightly senile Madeleine are strangely poignant – Susser, Gordon-Levitt, and Laurie manage to make interactions between the film’s two most mismatched characters the most resonant. Also, you’ll probably want to call your own grandma after watching the film.

I wondered more than once if Hesher was really some sort of split personality of T.J.’s. Hesher seems to appear out of nowhere occasionally, and sometimes other people don’t even notice him. Combine this with a scene where a high school teacher lectures T.J. and other students about a protagonist facing dreams and nightmares, (plus all the metaphors) and the film almost feels like a fantasy. The aesthetic of the film is also decidedly retro. Old TV sets, clothing, and decorations populate the film and add to its dreamy quality.

Ultimately, the moral that Susser is trying to get across comes through T.J. and his father. Life isn’t about what you’ve lost, the film says, it’s about what you still have. Hesher himself uses a personal (a very personal) story to get this point across to the father and son (even the film’s titular character is great at metaphors – it’s not even the only one he uses in the film).

The writing, characters, and Gordon-Levitt’s performance make Hesher a complex and interesting film. Check it out if you get the chance – I wouldn’t be surprised if Hesher pops up again in the future.

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