There came a point where I felt the need to tell someone at work about myself and my flatmates’ quest to watch every single Nicolas Cage movie in order. I saw the look of confusion shuffle its way awkwardly across their face, like a man at a party who’d been caught taking a dump in the punchbowl. She just couldn’t understand why I would do that, why anyone would do that, and it occured to me that some people just don’t get Nicolas Cage.
This was remarkable to me. After all, I had always thought the man’s appeal was obvious. My first significant Cage experience was Michael Bay actioner The Rock. Amidst a cast bloated with solid character actors like Ed ‘I Have Been Carved Entirely Out Of Granite’ Harris and David ‘I Have Betrayed Someone In Every Single Film I’ve Ever Been In’ Morse, as well as a goddamned bona fide Hollywood legend, Sean ‘Most Definitely Scottish’ Connery, Nicolas Cage skittered across the film with an edgy, crackling charisma that lit up the screen. I have seen this film at least 17 times now, including on Laserdisc, which is basically just how film fans compare penis size.
Nicolas Cage flips wildly from laconic to smouldering, to charmingly befuddled to absolutely losing his shit without warning or regard towards logic. Some people would call him a bad actor, claiming his performances mirror normal human behaviour in much the same way that the Lockerbie Bombing mirrors air travel but they’re missing the point. I think to truly understand Nicolas Cage, you have to look a little deeper.
Cage has always had the air of an outsider. Unsurprising, really, considering that he discovered acting, not as a way to express himself or even make a living, but to stop the neighbourhood kids from beating him up by pretending he was his own cousin. He sees things from the perspective of the outcast, the one who never quite fits in. He sees and emulats human behaviour through a funhouse mirror, unsurprising for a man who named his son after a Superman character/ More than that, he inhabits a role so fully, so completely that it goes beyond the mere emulation of behaviour. If you were to tell me that, before every film, Nicolas Cage conducts an LSD-fuelled ritual resulting in a complete psychotic break and, for the entire duration of filming, genuinely believes himself to be that character, then I would totally believe you.
It is my thesis that Nicolas Cage is the first hyperreal actor. Rather than merely attempting to ape the behaviour of the people around him, Cage creates his own reality. He tells you how a character should react, not how he would react. In much the same way as a cartoonist reduces the complexity of the human form to a series of lines and curves, Cage’s acting is the boiling down of emotion to pure, elemental forces. He tells his stories in broad, sweeping strokes, whether it be flailing uselessly at a coathanger, drawing a single expletive into a long, mournful cry across a crowded bar, or roundhouse kicking Kathy Bates in the face. It is through these grand gestures that Cage’s performances become more than real, they become hyperreal and we begin to understand the raw, pulsing force of his work.
Plus he freaks out a lot and it’s funny as hell.