Thanks to Spenser Susser, grief groups might just start playing Metallica, Megadeth or Slayer to help deal with the loss of a loved one. Susser is the director of the movie, “Hesher,” which breaks new ground in the “good” predator theme in movies.
Thanks to Spenser Susser, grief groups might just start playing Metallica, Megadeth or Slayer to help deal with the loss of a loved one. Susser is the director of the movie, “Hesher,” which breaks new ground in the “good” predator theme in movies. Hesher is Susser’s feature film debut, and co-wrote the script with David Michod. The story was conceived by Brian Charles Frank. It’s the kind of movie that Hollywood typically loves to make - where the viewer tries to find an ounce of feeling or humanity in the character. The plot follows a boy, T.J. (Devin Brochu) who lost his mother in a tragic automobile accident. The father (Rainn Wilson) is severely depressed about the loss of his wife, and lies on the sofa, detached from his son. TJ deals with his grief by tracking down the family’s wrecked automobile at a junk yard and befriending a cashier (Natalie Portman) at a local grocery store. He doesn’t so much befriend Hesher as he is forced to endure him. TJ breaks some windows at a construction site, thus wakening the Hesher “monster” from his illegal temporary den. Hesher tracks TJ down and thereafter sticks to him like glue, making his life in some respects unlivable. Oddly enough, after meeting Hesher, TJ has to deal with two bullies: a neighborhood bully at school and the junk yard, and Hesher. It’s hard to decide which is worse; both are cruel to him in their own way.
Susser admits that the Hesher character was based on the short life of the former bass player for Metallica, Cliff Burton, who died at 24 years of age. Hesher doesn’t look up to many people - but he looks up to Cliff Burton, Susser says in one interview. He says Hesher loves Metallica, loves metal (music). Burton was famous as a singularly talented bass player with his own style. But, according to Susser, he was also known as his own person. He wore bell bottoms when they were out of style, Susser says. Burton also must have had a way with words. After he joined Metallica 1982, the group cut their first album, titled, “Kill ‘Em All.” But it was their second choice after the music censors did not like the first, which was Metal Up Your Ass. When the band members learned of the restriction, Burton said, “Kill ‘em all, man.” Thus the album's title. Burton’s refrain is common among heavy metal band lyricists, as the band names Megadeath and Slayer suggest.
Susser also admits of being enamored with Metallica. He says he wrote a letter to the Metallica band members and they agreed to let him use some of the music in the movie. "It was so cool to hear - It felt really good, like we kind of did that. That was supercool,” he says. The problem, of course, is that most people watching the movie probably don’t know or care, since Metallica is not mentioned in the movie.
And that seems to be one of the significant problems with the movie. It’s one thing to write and direct a movie, and another to have a love fest with a dead member of a rock band. It’s also hard to make sense of comments and descriptions of the movie by Susser and the main actors. Susser says he wrote about “something that is very honest - the films essentially about dealing with loss. "I think it’s something that we all go through at some stage in our lives,” he said.
People do deal with loss. It's just fortunate that most people don’t have to deal with someone invading their home at most stages of their lives. Susser says he introduced Hesher to the plot to make the movie more entertaining. “He’s sort of the wind that changes everything - maybe he represents death - here’s this scary thing, . . . who moves into their house.” “Once they learn how to function with him there, he goes away in a sense,” Susser said. “He shakes these people up and snaps them out of it."
Portman also has trouble finding words to describe the movie. She says Hesher is a character who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, and says exactly what’s on his mind, and has a propensity to be vulgar and violent and rude. That is accurate. “He’s sort of an embodiment of all the things TJs going through.”
In a circular sort of thinking, this is actually true. He is going through many of his trials because of Hesher. Other actors only add to the confusion. Joseph Gordon-Levitt compares Hesher to Mary Poppins. In character with his shirt off, Gordon-Levitt has a man blowing his brains out drawn on front, and a giant middle finger on his back. Both are drawn crudely, as though by a drunken tattoo artist, or someone like Hesher. Rain Wilson says Hesher is someone giving someone, or a group of people the finger, referring to Gordon-Levitt’s makeup tatoo. “He’s like the ‘fuck you’ tattooed on his back; he’s the ultimate bad-ass.” “A crazy character who does absolutely whatever he wants,” he said.
Perhaps Wilson is referring to the censored Metallica album title: Metal Up Your Ass.
Yes, people like Hesher do whatever they want - often senseless things, until they are caught by police and land in jail. There they usually do what they want in a confined cell or exercise yard. Wilson does a favorable job playing the father. But his character has fallen into a depressive state that most viewers probably could not relate to - to the point of not noticing Hesher sitting on his sofa or at the dinner table eating his food. Most parents would wonder why a headbanger in his twenties would befriend their eight-year-old son. Or when confronted with an unwanted guest, they would usually ask them to leave or call the police.
The movie reviews also don’t seem to jive with the movie. Movie promoters typically headline the best reviews. In this case some of the review quotes seem strangely macabre, like they were created as companions to the movie by demented promoter: “Refreshingly original,” “Hilarious” and “Raw destruction and aggro comedy punctuates with a blast of crunching metal.” “If there is a fault to Hesher’s evaluations, it’s that they lead to some moments are simply too devoid of humor, but this is an original, hilarious movie,” reads another. Devoid of humor, yet hilarious. Seems like a revelation.
One trailer says succintly, “TJ IS SAD - HESHER CAN HELP - MAYBE.” Unfortunately, Hesher doesn’t help TJ much at all, unless you count teaching a young, impressionable boy how to be a felon. Susser has fans with his backward approach to grief. One of the interviewers for Movieweb told him he was a fan of the movie as the interview began. “I’ve been describing it to my friends as . . . ,” he says.
Hint to reviewer: “If you are a fan of the movie, then don’t do the interview - or at least don’t tell us that you are.”
There seems to be a hypnotic element for criminals or people who belong in jail for Hollywood types like Susser and Portman, who financed the project. It’s not as though we haven’t seen people act without remorse in movies before. We have, in movies like “Natural Born Killers” and “The Sopranos.”
The director and actors certainly would not like to have someone like Hesher visit them at their homes, but they get credit for pretending that a criminal out of jail visits someone in a movie, making their life a living hell. It’s like any anti-Jimmy Stewart “It’s a Wonderful Life” neurosis. They could have called the movie “TJ’s Hellish Life.” Instead of a nice angel like Clarence visiting you, you get a felon. This, in their thinking, is better than a grief counselor or healing; someone who helps by adding more grief. It’s ironic that Burton died in a tragic, senseless road accident when the band’s tour bus turned over in Sweden, on Sept. 27, 1986. Or perhaps for the band it was another opportunity to celebrate with some fateful lyrics, like those from Megadeth - “Killing is My Business and My Business is Good,” or Slayer's, “Kill and Kill Again.” Maybe "Die and Die An Accidental Death Again," would have been more appropriate.
The chorus to the Slayer song:
No apparent motive
Just kill and kill again
Survive my brutal thrashing
I’ll hunt you till the end
My life’s constant battle
The rage of many men
Homicidal manic . . .
© 2011 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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