I’m very curious to see Casey Affleck’s Joaquin Phoenix documentary, which I think raises a couple of interesting questions:
First, I think Phoenix’s behavior during the time this movie was made has been viewed with some suspicion because it wasn’t clear whether he’d really experienced a sudden personality change, or if his behavior was some kind of Dadaistic stunt, specifically for the movie. Given that he was essentially born into a religious cult, was a child street performer to help support his family, and had to experience his brother’s death and the 911 call he made that failed to save him played out publicly, it’s not inconceivable to me that Phoenix would have some serious issues, but there has always been that doubt there. Second, I think there’s a gender disparity when it comes to public interest in people going crazy in Hollywood. When someone like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears has serious mental problems, they tend to show up underdressed, to seem more sexually available, to be vulnerable and a mess in a way that invites rescuing and sexualized, salacious judgement. When someone like Phoenix goes off the rails by gaining weight and forgetting to wash his hair, that’s not something that people want to get close to and understand. But the means of expressing depression or despair, and the gender of the person experiencing it doesn’t actually add up to a hierarchy of seriousness or legitimacy.