On Creativity and Psychological Scarring, Or How 'Frank' Will Fuck You Up
Out in New York this weekend, Frank’s garnered a lot of attention since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year for Michael Fassbender’s performance as a guy who literally wears a giant mask for 90% of the film. It’s just the sort of thing that gets people talking, and he does a great job.
But I don’t want to talk about Frank.
I want to talk about Jon.
Played by Domhnall Gleeson, Jon is the main character of the film, an office drone with dreams of musical stardom who thinks he finally might get his big break when Frank’s band loses its keyboard player and has to take him under its wing. While Frank and his compatriots are for the most part your stereotypical artistic eccentrics—Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara plays the theremin and dresses like she’s from the ’20s, François Civil’s boho bassist Baraque speaks French all the time, and though Frank’s insistence on wearing a giant fake head is a symptom of deeper psychological issues, it certainly seems at first, to Jon and to us, that it’s an affectation adopted by a deeply artistic soul—Jon’s just… a normal guy.
He tweets out what sandwich he’s eating for lunch to his 14 followers. Once he joins the band he blogs about them and uploads clips to YouTube, not because of any intentionally Machiavellian desire to control the band’s future, but because… well, because that’s what you do. Something interesting happens to you, you post to Tumblr about it.
There’s certainly an aspect of Frank that’s a criticism of social media, of how it enables a modern and fickle definition of fame. Jon plays into that. His perception of realizing his creative potential is all tied up in being successful—to him, unlike the rest of his bandmates, writing a good song doesn’t matter if people don’t hear it. And how do you measure success? By followers, YouTube hits, and social media buzz.
And sure, as the movie goes on, Jon’s goals are revealed as being ultimately pretty harmful, and in a way he turns into the antagonist of the film, which after all is named after Frank. I won’t go into details here, because it’s spoilery, but also because it’s largely irrelevant to the part of Frank that killed my soul, which is this: All Jon wants is to be a successful songwriter. He wants validation. He wants respect from his peers. Who doesn’t? But he fails. And the reason for his failure isn’t because he doesn’t put in the hard work. It’s not because he doesn’t want it. It’s not because he doesn’t put everything he has into it. It’s because when it comes right down to it He’s just not good enough. Because sometimes you’re not.
Did anyone else just sink to the floor and start crying, or was it just me?
Frank cuts to the writhing, painful nest of insecurities at the core of anyone who has MyNovel.doc saved on their computer, convinced that it’ll be awesome when they actually finish it. When you work in a creative field, you put yourself out there in a way that you don’t with most other jobs. No one’s called my brother the computer programmer an idiot or a fascist or “oversensitive” for the way he does something at work. (If they have, he needs to tell me, because I’m the older sister and I’ll fuck their shit up.) I get that now, and that’s just from me writing articles about movies. It’s not personal in the way that all the things I want to write are.
And putting yourself out there like that is hard. Fuck, it’s psychologically debilitating. I still haven’t actually written The Big Fantasy Novel that I want to write, because I’m scared shitless that it’ll suck. Which it will! Because first drafts always do! But if I plan it, if I do research and fiddle around with character motivations instead of actually writing, I’ll feel productive, even though I know full well I’m just distracting myself. I’m wasting what time I have. And that makes me feel worse, so I do some more not-writing. The cycle continues.
At the core of it all, there’s that fear: If I do put myself out there, like Jon does, if I do everything right, I’ll still be rejected, because it turns out I’m an awful fucking writer. I don’t know if Frank screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan have similar issues, or if I’m just doing some major-league projecting. I’m guessing they do. And I sympathize with them, but at the same time I want to punch them, because did you have to make Frank so brutal for your fellow delicate creative types? Did you?
Don’t see this movie. Or do, because it’s really good. But don’t, because you will hate yourself afterwards.
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