Hesher (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Hesher (2011)

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Hesher hearkens back to the early 1990's when a simpler kind of nihilism was running wild.  Many filmmakers, inspired by the success of Pulp Fiction, decided the lesson to take from Pulp was not to blend styles in a devoted prayer at the altar of film, but violence is really cool and Generation X is devoid of hope.  If I'm forced to recall Doom Generation (1995) as a starting point, dear readers, little can go well from here.

Doom Generation, as few may recall, detailed the exploits of a perpetually screwing and murdering roving band of outcasts.  Hesher, by direct comparison, features a more violent and less comedic version of those outcasts played with terrifying ferocity by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Doom Generation, for all its faults, did not think its protagonists "heroes" in the slightest.  Hesher makes the fundamental mistake of thinking the title character is someone people need in their lives.

Prior to his introduction, Hesher is an intense portrait of a family deconstructing.  T.J. (Devin Brochu) is bullied at school but lost any reason to defend himself after his mom died in a car accident.  He goes home to his father (Rainn Wilson), a medication addicted member of the living dead, and his loving grandmother (Piper Laurie), who is far smarter than anyone in or involved in the production of this movie gives her credit for.

Except for Hesher.  Because he's the hero, you see.

Yes, T.J. may learn to accept pain and move on but only because he has the violent, foul minded and destructive tendencies of Hesher as a guide.  He enters the film like a troll under a bridge, emerging from a dilapidated house to threaten T.J. with a knife and throw bombs at the cops.  He invades T.J.'s home and promises to kill his family if anyone tells the cops where he is.  Then he stands and watches T.J. eat a urinal cake because the kid finally got the guts to stand up to his bully.  Does Hesher help?  Nah, he smokes a cigarette and stares at the scene.

Between Super and this movie it's clear Rainn Wilson is working to shed his image from The Office. My feelings on this film aside, he is skillful at projecting sadness in a way which should impress Bill Murray.

This is a kid who watched his mother die in a car accident and is now eating a product designed to purify urine.  To what end is all of Hesher's behavior leading toward?  Well, violence and inner strength go hand in hand, and sometimes you need to be the bad guy to get some change done in this cold world.

No.  Bad movie.  Bad bad movie.  Take a look at yourself in the mirror and look at the mess you've made.  This is disgusting behavior serving no greater purposes and alleviated in no way by director Spencer Susser's style.  He captures all the filth of the metal Hesher likes to listen to and none of the raw power.  The house T.J. lives in is a dull fecal brown, the city a cold gray and the school harshly lit.  In Susser's world there is no hope, and the visuals continue to enforce this.

So what are we to make of Hesher?  Ultimately, he's a terrible creation, a relentless bully serving an id whose desires are so pathetic and useless it's no wonder we learn nothing about him.  Even Susser realizes this and fills in details about Hesher with irritating moments of self-conscious stylization.  After following T.J. home he introduces heavy guitar riffs in between Hesher's sentences ("Have you ever been skull fucked?"  DUN DUN DUN "Would you like to be?" DUN DUN DUN) recalling the vinyl scratch at the end of a bad joke.  This trick is never repeated, leaving the cosmic effect of leaving Hesher with his own badass soundtrack (no matter how temporary) and all the other hurting people with silence.

Huffing markers. Threatening children. Chucking bombs. If he did hard drugs we might have another "dark period Nick Nolte" on our hands.

Hesher is a myth of the worst kind, the sadomasochist as emerging hero to a depressed child.  The grief of a child is not solved by shoving a wire stripper around his nose and offering to increase some breathing space.  You might think "There's no way anyone would condone his behavior" but Susser seems to.  Hesher walks away as a hero, or at least liberator, from not one but three different explosions all designed to show Hesher is "right".

The film sometimes remembers Natalie Portman signed up for a role.  But her convenience store clerk exists solely to have sex with Hesher.  So in addition to the violent nihilism, the women of Hesher's world exist to get fucked or die and the real winners are the ones who burn everything  they see.

Bravo.  The only thing Hesher failed to do was be misanthropically racist and it would have had the triple crown of hateful behaviors.

Movies this terrible deserve special mention because they're so fundamentally misguided it hurts to watch so much talent go to a wretched place.  But there is a precedent ahead of the creators of Hesher.  After making Doom Generation director Gregg Arakai made the brilliantly tender film Mysterious Skin dealing with pedophilia and homosexuality.  Take heed Susser, you possess more raw talent, this just isn't the way to go.

Note: I try to avoid as much snark as possible when writing these reviews but one scene begs for me to break this rule.  Hesher tells a story about the time he was having sex with four girls at once - fingering two of them, using his tongue on the third and big toe on the fourth.  "Why", I wondered, "was he not using his penis?"  "Oh", I thought back, "because it's too busy fucking the audience into angry submission."

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Hesher (2011)

Directed by Spencer Susser.
Screenplay by Spencer Susser and David Michod.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Devin Brochu.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. You watching the movie was worth it just for that note at the end.

  2. You missed the whole point of this film. Reading your review was like watching a two dementional cartoon. Its time to look more deeply, try the 3D view that we all should be on.

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