Now here’s a demented little tale of depraved self-helplessness. I’m Still Here is the apparent documentation of the intentional path of self-destruction of Joaquin Phoenix. In 2008, toward the end of the year, Phoenix announced his retirement from acting and his subsequent plans to become a hip hop artist. Many people were rather puzzled at the time, due mainly to the fact that he had just starred in several critically acclaimed films, in particular the picture Two Lovers, in which he received strong recognition. The fact that he was only thirty four years old at the time only made his announcement that much weirder. Later on, in 2009, he appeared on the David Letterman show. His appearance on Letterman can only quaintly be described as a fucking mess. His hair was messy, greasy, unkempt, and completely filthy. His facial hair was even worse. He was incoherent in his mannerisms, nonsensical in his ramblings, and unsanitary in his behavior. I remember watching this online with my brother, and I was actually rather perplexed. It wasn’t quite along the lines of the Crispin Glover fiasco, but it was certainly unusual. Things took a turn for the worse with a disastrous appearance at a music convention in which he disgustingly was able to only perform one “song” before proceeding to attack an audience member. This picture shows what happened in between all of this and what occurred off-camera and on this handheld recorded footage.
Okay, so the entire thing was a hoax. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d just like to say that I am really happy to have learned this before I saw this picture. This would otherwise just be exploitation if it were real. The fact that it was a hoax, however, in a way makes this more disturbing to me. You see, I’m not entirely sure what here is real and what isn’t. This film fucked with my mind in a way that few films have. What this film is, basically, is pure destruction and pure depravity. It’s shot rather poorly, and that only adds to the gritty quality. Thinking back on it, the film is almost just a big blur of dicks, vomit, feces, and drug use. I’m still not sure what to make of this film. What do I make of such scenes such as when Joaquin (“I am SO gonna sniff a hooker’s butthole!”) Phoenix accompanies Sean “P Diddy” Combs in his studio to play his new hip hop tracks for him and his reaction to the repugnant tracks? What do I make of the scene in which Joaquin Phoenix sniffs cocaine off of a prostitute’s breast? What do I make of the scene in which Joaquin Phoenix tries to catch P Diddy at an Obama convention only to accidentally fall asleep in his hotel room and miss him? I mean, this is pure self-destruction of both career and reputation, and I was disturbed by it. I know there are people out there who don’t care because he’s a celebrity or just write him off as being an attention whore, but I’m not one to immediately write things off. If something intrigues me, I try my best to analyze what my feelings are, and my feeling toward I’m Still Here is that Phoenix is brave to have put himself in such a vulnerable position such as this. This is, first and foremost, a performance art piece. Secondly, however, I think that Phoenix’s intention with this was to, in a sense, exorcise this part of himself that he has fears about. I mean he’s a celebrity, he’s an acclaimed actor, and he’s also the brother-in-law of director Casey Affleck as well as the brother of the late-River Phoenix. I think he has plenty to be afraid of in terms of public perception and career ideals. I’ll always think of Joaquin Phoenix as the troubled kid who looked up to Keanu Reeves in Ron Howard’s classic, Parenthood. I think Casey Affleck has managed to touch on something universal here in that he shows us someone, essentially, setting themselves up for terrible failure. I think a lot of people out there get a sort of a sick rush out of watching someone’s life fall apart, and I don’t deny that I am one of those people. However, what he has proven with I’m Still Here is that when a well respected actor goes off the deep end and decides to go against public perception in order to find his own path toward fame without caring about consequences, sometimes public image is not what is most important. Personal integrity is what matters most with cases like this, and that’s why the graphic nature of I’m Still Here may hit too close to home for many viewers and that’s also why it’s such a surreal experience.
The only real problem that I have with I’m Still Here is that once you see it, there’s little reason to re-visit it. Life is too short to be constantly seeing the images in this film, and while I can see why many would want to watch this I know that I’d be hesitant. This was a really funny, shocking, and brutal film in a lot of ways, but the difference between films like this and stuff like, say, Mondo Cane is that Mondo Cane has a lot more to offer, visually, than just graphic imagery. I think that shockumentaries have a future in the realm of documentation, and the reason why I call this a documentary is because, whether or not it’s real, the feelings that the viewer feels toward Joaquin Phoenix would be the same whether or not everyone was in on it. If everyone really was in on it, then everyone deserves accolades and praise, including P Diddy. There’s a scene in which Phoenix is so mentally demolished that he ends up barely even being able to get out of his driveway and bumps a stone. EVEN THEN, he and the cameraman and everyone plays it straight. That says even more about the feelings of the filmmakers behind this monstrosity of a film than it does about Casey Affleck and the rest of the crew. This is a startling film indeed.