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On Physical Transformations

The masculine Christian Bale was on a strict diet of a can of tuna and an apple every day until he lost 63 pounds for his role in The Machinist as an industrial worker who hasn't slept in a year. The South African beauty Charlize Therone gained 30 pounds for her role in Monster as a hideous prostitute. The next-door-man actor Tom Hanks put on weight and then lost about 50 pounds for his role in Cast Away as an executive cast away in an island. Heartthrob Ralph Fiennes gained 29 pounds for his role as a merciless Nazi commander in Schindler's List. The list is just what was on top of my head, but I'm very sure that I missed a lot of performances.

In an age where make-up and visual effects can virtually transform a man into a woman or a dog into a donkey, there are a few personalities in filmdom who take their jobs with immense seriousness. All the names mentioned above were critically acclaimed for their roles in the aforementioned movies. They were all stellar performances. I think they all make a point: technology can only deceive what you see in form, but the authenticity of the emotions evoked by the facial expressions, body language and other non-verbal means of communication is a result of an acute artistic eye for the character they portray and something else that comes from inside.

Oliver Stone did a wonderful job directing 'Platoon', because he was involved in the war personally and he knew the nature of combat between American soldiers and the Vietnamese. Apple software is great with the choice of colors and the design of fonts because Steve Jobs was once a student of calligraphy. It is this inside factor (a poor name - lack of my creativity) that arouses passion and truthfulness. If Charlize Therone hadn't gained weight, she might still have produced a credible performance. But, would it have been as great as we see it now in 'Monster'? The ruthlessness and mercilessness of Aileen Wournos was directly coupled with her physique and Therone couldn't have played Aileen to this effect with the help of make-up artistes alone. To use a cliche, the state of body affects the state of mind and acting is directly a function of the state of the mind.

Hanks was a two-time Oscar winner when he committed to 'Cast Away' and he didn't have to prove his thespian skills to anybody. Still, the amount of physical labour he went through is evident on the screen and his performance is now etched on the memory of the audience. It's easy to gain weight. It's important and quite difficult to maintain a good healthy physique and we know a few actors who take their body shape as a top priority. But to go up and down on the weight scale for a movie shows the level of hard work that goes on behind the camera. When Charlize Therone won the Oscar for her performance in 'Monster', she was slim and beautiful, the way we have seen her before. Christian Bale was fit and fine when he returned as Batman. It is such dedicated artistes that lift the level of a cinema from good to great.

2 Responses to “On Physical Transformations”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I hope your omission of Robert de Niro's transformation in The Raging Bull was an oversight and not intentional. IMHO, it was one hell of a jump from a boxer to an obese guy.


  2. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    How could I have forgotten that?? Gaining 60 pounds after being a slim-trim boxer. That was a terrific performance.

    Trivia: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (both highly revered critics) claimed that it's the best film of the 80's when the movie was released in 1980.  

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