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Being John Malkovich: Boomer Hero

We boomers are engaged in a revolution. We are throwing off the stereotypes of aging. We now treat 60 as a chance to begin again.

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The stereotypes may be ludicrous but they are well installed. Madison Avenue gives us a succession of ads that show aging as a time for pastel sweaters and witless cavorting on the beach. Hollywood turns the likes of Clint EastwoodLiam Neeson, and Bruce Willis into gun-toting, revenge-thirsty hooligans.

Overcompensating vs. Phoning it In

The alternative is gentle comedy filled with wry humor from the likes of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Over 60? You can choose: overcompensating or phoning it in.

I keep waiting for something in the middle ground, a glimpse of boomers who are formidable without actually having to shoot anyone, who can engage the world without having to be so apologetic about it.

And then I saw The ABC Murders (Amazon Prime). It features John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot. I have never been crazy about Malkovich. Too arch, too mannered, I thought, in his style of self-presentation. Nothing wrong with this necessarily. But we are Americans who prefer a certain naturalism, authenticity, sincerity in our personal style. We like to be candid and forthcoming. We like the idea that we conceal nothing and that you can see right into us. We are guileless. We are transparent. We are American.

But Malkovich is working on a new style. His Poirot is solemn, grave, thoughtful. And deliberately so. This Poirot, we are given to understand, now labors in obscurity. Once the toast of London society, he is ignored by his public and distrusted by the London police.

To return to crime-fighting form, Poirot must climb out of ignominy. And, in any case, there is good news (if this can be seen as good news): There’s a serial killer haunting London and he is obsessed with Poirot. Eventually, the police must come calling. Eventually, Poirot is back in action.

A Performance of Self-Possession

This reprieve might have taken Malkovich from glum and selfdoubting back to his characteristic smirk. But no. Poirot rises from his ashes but not from his solemnity. It is a wonderful performance of self-possession. It says, in effect, “I do not care what you think of me. At all. I am not here for you.” This Poirot is a triumph of I-will-suffer-no-fools severity. His glance is a shot across the bow. 

Actors serve our culture in many ways. We could even see them as a laboratory in which new styles and new selves are proposed, tested, reworked, and made ready for the rest of us. This makes it a valuable resource for boomers who are now embarking upon experimentation of their own. Is this the time to cultivate new styles of self-presentation? Is it time to work up a little frosty self-possession? Boomer, heal thyself.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Grant, a timely post. You and I are the same age. After leaving my last post at IC a year ago (we can talk about that over a beer sometime) I thought I was done from a career perspective. I was wrong. ‘Retirement’ will just be another style of working. I can see this path continuing until I decide to turn off the tap. Problem of course will be whether or not the body can keep up with the mind. Physics and biology will have their way with all of us. Thanks for sharing. I am now sorely tempted to watch Malkovich in this role. I haven’t met a Poirot I like since Albert Finney’s interpretation way back in the 80s version of Murder on the Orient Express.

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Grant McCracken
Grant McCrackenhttps://about.me/grantmccracken
Grant McCracken is a cultural anthropologist (PhD from the University of Chicago). He is the author of several books and has taught at Harvard and MIT. He consults for the likes of Netflix, Google, Nike and the White House. He is an excellent public speaker. He lives in Rowayton, Connecticut with his wife and three Siamese cats. He is almost 68 years old.

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