Joaquin Pheonix’s Hoax

Joaquin Phoenix. What do you think of when you hear these two words? A few years ago, this name would have summoned adjectives such as “accomplished” and “talented”; Phoenix was known around the world as an award-winning actor who starred in such greats as “Walk the Line.” But as of October 2008, discussion of Phoenix has been centered on insults, mockery and ridicule. We all watched as one of America’s most successful film stars buckled under the public eye and tried to redefine himself as a hip-hop artist. We all laughed at the infamous David Letterman clip, where a dishevelled and fully-bearded Phoenix stumbled onto the stage and proceeded to mumble incoherently for a full 10-minute “interview”. (If you didn’t see it, you really missed out). Letterman’s closing sentence, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight…” was a catalyst that spiralled Joaquin Phoenix into an unfamiliar world of parody. But now we know that the joke was on us.
A few weeks ago, Magnolia Pictures released a documentary called “I’m Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix.”As an avid follower of the Phoenix phenomenon, I found myself racing to the movie theatre to catch a glimpse of the mysterious man who had slipped under the radar. The film follows Phoenix’s transition from acting to rapping. The first scene is a youthful Phoenix swimming in a water hole in Panama, enjoying life – it’s a scene that humanizes our subject, and creates a tide of guilt that will threaten to crash over us when we laugh at the much-older Phoenix. Some of the clips in the movie are so hilarious that the guilt is more equivalent to drops of water, merely lapping at the surface of our conscience; for example, P-Diddy’s disgusted face while listening to Joaquin’s demos, or the shocking clip of Joaquin jumping off stage and attacking a Heckler in a Miami Club. There was one particularly saddening point where I had to revisit my angle on the Letterman show, which was when the cameras showed a sobbing Joaquin after the interview in a full meltdown. “I’m Still Here” was a documentary full of emotion – a movie that is sure to manipulate the viewer and place them between opposing morals. I mean, even the title is a desperate plea on behalf of Joaquin for recognition and respect.
So, the end of the movie must signal the end of the Joaquin Phoenix spectacle, right? Not at all. If the documentary wasn’t surprising enough, the fact that it was all a mockumentary was enough to make thousands of jaws drop. Joaquin’s two-year downward spiral was in fact an elaborate hoax with manufactured mystery, fabricated facts and counterfeit circumstances. Phoenix said the mockumentary focused on celebrity culture, and the fascinating way in which people accept the amateur dramatics of “reality” shows as actual reality. You may argue that you weren’t fooled by the stunt, and that you aren’t included in the gullible consumer society of today, but there is one thing we can all agree on: Joaquin Phoenix delivered the performance of a lifetime. After all, he took method-acting to a new level I didn’t even know was possible.