The James Clayton Column: in Utopia, we are all Ryan Reynolds

Is the imminent arrival of Ryan Reynolds’ latest flick, The Change-Up, the forerunner to a dystopian era of body fascism? James fears it might…

The movie industry is so superficial. “Well duh! It’s a visual medium, fool!”, you may reply, but does it have to be so shallow and obsessed with appearance? Oh, Hollywood, you’re so vain. You probably think this column’s about you. (Really, it’s not about you.)

Reality is being airbrushed away right before our eyes, and the motion picture business is one of the main bodies to blame for the dystopian descent into illusion. Film posters project the Photoshopped images into our eyes and infiltrate our senses, spreading their influence on the sides of buses and on roadside billboards.

It looks like an advert on a train station platform, right? Not so! It’s an insidious brainwashing device determined to destroy objective truth and replace it with a fabricated false vision of perfection made by some graphic design hack in the suburbs of Los Angeles!

You think that’s air you’re breathing? No! It’s all a computer-generated simulation pumped out by Korean slave labourers on their break from additional effects work on the Battleship movie. If you find yourself choking and suddenly coughing up an alien spaceship, a US naval vessel or a crude digitalised head that bears a startling similarity to Liam Neeson, you know the reason why.

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I resent this dishonest infraction on actuality, and want the fresh air back. I fear that we’re rapidly rushing towards a sick cyberpunkish state of computer-simulated hyperreality upon which The Matrix and the Ghost In The Shell universes are built. I don’t want the purer, raw elements of the world to be eaten alive by artifice, sacrificed for the sake of meddling or pursuing misguided ideals of perfection. I want mud, natural Earth odours and skin with blemishes and wrinkles – not uncanny valleys, replicant lovers and neural nanotechnology.

And the purging of impurity and ugliness doesn’t end under the Utopian Order. We’re still going to be attacked by 3D billboard adverts that feature an airbrushed image of Zooey Deschanel, who attacks you with her eyelashes if you refuse to buy the branded mascara she insists you need to make yourself less hideous.

Deschanel’s deadly whip lashes sting, but as a male (at time of writing) I’ve been moved to muse on the cosmetic features of the movie world by Mr Ryan Reynolds. The star of Green Lantern is a fine specimen of a man, an excellent actor (see Buried as testimony) and comes across an all-round nice guy of warmth, charm and wit. He also has an incredible physique and dashing good looks.

Reynolds is the all-American acting studmuffin, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that every interview with him seems to get derailed by his status as one of the sexiest men alive. I’d like to see serious journalists asking the actor profound, important questions like, “What’s happening with the Deadpool movie?” “What’s it like to act alone in a box?” and “Can you still recite the Green Lantern oath after downing seven glasses of absinthe?” (Green Lantern 2‘s working title is Green Lantern Versus Green Fairy.)

What we get instead are interviewers fawning over the überhunk and turning the movie press junket into a schoolgirl crush showcase. It’s disconcerting for avid movie geeks, especially once you reflect on the deeper meaning behind these things, and ponder upon the intrinsic superficiality of the entire movie business.

I don’t blame Ryan Reynolds for this. I blame easily distracted, flirty reporters and the marketing department demons that have pushed him through Photoshop and spread him worldwide on eerie-looking film posters. Going a step further, I blame the aspirational values of the society we live in. The message we get isn’t simply, “Ryan Reynolds is a famous, popular film actor and an all-round excellent guy to boot!” but, “Look at Ryan Reynolds and wish you were as good-looking and masculine as him! Revel in his awesomeness! He is the epitome of success and perfection, and you are lacking, loser!”

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To well and truly hammer this message home, The Change-Up is coming to cinemas soon, with a plot about how Jason Bateman’s life would be better if he were Ryan Reynolds. It’s a body-swap comedy, because apparently there’s somebody in Hollywood who fails to see that this idea is unoriginal and unfunny.

I may be wrong to approach this flick with scepticism. It could be a winning flick exploring adult man issues in hilarious style, with its leads delivering excellent comic performances. Alternatively, it could be a flat feature built around a duff premise – because Bateman isn’t really ugly, the body horror element is negligible – that seeks to advance the aesthetic conspiracy of the hegemonic order.

The Change-Up could, indeed, be a propaganda piece for the movement to make us all ‘perfect specimens’. The dead eyes of Reynolds on the excessively airbrushed promo prints are gazing ahead to a flawless future that wants to claim our souls and resculpt our flesh.

Pulling the tinfoil hat right over my eyes, I’m struck by the timely arrival of Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, and wonder whether it’s come to commence phase one of the cosmetic coup d’état. I’m not convinced that the release of a film about the creation of a perfect synthetic skin is pure coincidence. This sci-fi vision of indestructible flesh is merely the preface to the point where the public surrender their bodies to the Utopian Order in order to achieve the unblemished ideal celebrated in film posters.

It doesn’t help that the obsessed plastic surgeon of The Skin I Live In is played by Antonio Banderas, who I’ll always imagine as Zorro. I’m getting horrific images of Banderas in a black bandana, slashing away at patients with a pointed rapier until they resemble the man cast as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern.

If Banderas’ Robert Ledgard can’t effectively achieve the metamorphosis with his scalpel and his experimental perfect skin, then I expect Korean slave labourers and graphic designers will add the finishing touches in post-reproduction.

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The revolution will not be televised, but rather manifest itself through the mass media, all-encroaching virtual reality, and in our very bodies. The Utopian Order rises up as a repressive regime, enforcing a specific ideal of homogenous perfection on humankind.

That perfection, it seems, is Ryan Reynolds. Dissenters will be mercilessly lashed into submission by Zooey Deschanel’s eyebrows, and forced to undergo cosmetic surgery that leaves them looking like Freddy Krueger. Everyone else is Ryan Reynolds.

Look on the bright side though. They’ll finally have to stop making body-swap comedies!

James’ previous column can be found here.

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