Director: Spencer Susser
Cast: Devin Brochu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson, Natalie Portman, Piper Laurie, Brendan Hill, John Carroll Lynch
MPAA Rating: (for disturbing violent behavior, sexual content including graphic dialogue, pervasive language, and drug content - some in the presence of a child)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 5/13/11
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 12, 2011
Hesher makes the fatal error of holding its titular, superego-free philosopher on a pedestal. He is, in the view of co-writer/director Spencer Susser, the best thing that ever happened to a family that's been oppressed by grief. He's a unifying factor, bringing the survivors together with his feeling of nihilism toward the world and most of its inhabitants. Perhaps a more reasonable way in which Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) could bond those around him is in their desire to be rid of him, report him to the police, and maybe testify at his sanity hearing, if they haven't moved already in case he's ever released on a technicality.
Appearing from the dark recesses of a uncompleted house at a construction yard and appearing intermittently to the young T.J. (Devin Brochu) as he goes about his life, Hesher at first gives off the impression of a phantom—of some repressed rage that has built up in the boy after losing his mother to a car crash of which he was also part and watching his father Paul (Rainn Wilson) descend into an unremitting case of depression. If only Hesher were some spirit or vision of a cracking mind. He is, instead, the very real product of his own warped mind, both conclusions (of his authenticity and his nature) we learn irrefutability as he comes into T.J.'s home, strips to his underwear to wash his clothes, and threatens violence against the young kid unless he pretends that Hesher is a welcome guest and, moreover, a friend.
Dad buys into it, because dad isn't really there anymore. His body is—lounging on the couch with nonsense on the television—but his mind is miles away. T.J., too, longs for that which isn't present anymore, travelling to the local tow company where the wreckage of the family car sits, awaiting to be turned to scrap. He begs with the owner (John Carroll Lynch) to let him buy it back, but it's no sale. Adding injury to insult, the owner's son Duncan (Brendan Hill) is a relentless bully to T.J.
Of course, Hesher's role in T.J.'s life is to teach him to stand up for himself—to get him and, by extension, Paul off their asses and do something about their lives. He has a funny way of doing so, and by "funny," I mean dangerous. It's one thing for Hesher to encourage T.J. to fight back against his tormentor, but it's another thing entirely for that lesson to eventually result in T.J. breaking into the kid's house and holding a pair of clippers to his toes.
Then there's the question of whether the level of T.J.'s victimization at the bully's hands would be as intolerable as it is if Hesher were not in the picture. Watching from the sidelines and doing nothing as Duncan corners T.J. in the school bathroom, Hesher vandalizes and later destroys his car, making it seem as though T.J. is the one responsible. Again, it's one thing to try to teach T.J. a lesson about standing up for himself, but it's a whole other world of misplaced intentions to bring about the circumstances in which the lesson is now a matter of survival.
Hesher is a sociopath, plain and simple—a destructive force with no concern for how his actions affect others. The little glimmers of something resembling decency in Hesher can be spotted in the way he behaves around T.J.'s grandmother (Piper Laurie), who has become to her son and grandson like a piece of furniture in the kitchen (one that also happens to cook them dinner every night). Humanity for Hesher, though, is that he doesn't look down on grandma with resentment for her existence and helps her smoke her medicinal marijuana.
Almost on a similar level in his view is Nicole (Natalie Portman), a local grocery clerk who does rescue T.J. once from his bully and on whom the boy develops a crush. She is something of a curiosity among the rest of the characters; here is someone with problems dealing with them in a rational way with a good heart. That isn't enough for Susser and co-writer David Michôd, so watch T.J.'s reaction when Hesher steps in on what he believes to be his. There is the unbridled rage that Hesher is instilling.Beyond the fact that Hesher is a character to be despised instead of admired, Hesher is distanced from its characters and their situation in its apathy toward them. In that way, the movie does reflect its eponymous character's worldview, and that's a unpleasant thing.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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