A Brad Pitt movie is never about his character, but rather about other characters reacting to his stasis, his perfection and his flat-out otherworldliness. His movies depict regular people dealing with his irregular perfection. We watch and listen as they must evolve in order to comprehend him. They abide in his shadow. And they tell us about him. He has come among us. He is the new version, the knower, the seer. He need not develop for he has long sense arrived at stillness, at godhood.
Pitt always plays one of four iterations of the same archetype:
The Man God: Roles without quirk, where Pitt is calmly serious, coolly radiant and often death incarnate. I’m talking about Achilles, Joe Black, the sexier brother in Legends of the Fall, the better brother in A River Runs Through It… In these he is the true man from other. He tastes our vodka, caviar, our peanut butter and he deems it good. His perfections drive his co-characters mad, vengeful or old. They cannot predict him, depend on him or leave him. They writhe in efforts to summit, but he, the mountain, shakes them down with a smirk.
See also: Killing Them Softly, Inglorious Basterds, Megamind
The Knower: These are the roles where he waits for others/us to catch up with him. He knows what will happen, he has a plan, he sees the future, but he can’t share. He is slightly annoyed that it is taking us so long to see what he can see. He doesn’t need to develop; he’s waiting and watching our growth. He blinks slowly while we compute. He suppresses a smile when we fail to grasp the point. He gives his cocharacters, the everyman vessels the most patriarchal sink-or-swim advice either through word or example. He understands the counsel from his antecedent’s Harrison Ford and Redford, but is sad to know they are outdated. Things are on his terms now.
See: Sleepers, Devil’s Own, Spy Game, Tree of Life, Benjamin Button, Moneyball, and even World War Z.
The Fun, Scary, Crazy Guy: In between playing gods and death angels Pitt will get in there with an ensemble (and only when with an ensemble) to play it fast and loose. He’ll become caricatures of unpredictable lunatics that might just be able to see what the co-character’s and we can’t. (A fool’s lunacy may indeed be the actions of the enlightened.) He has a disregard for the trappings of regular thought and he remains static despite his kinetic mode. He does not change. He is not in peril. He is without crisis. He’s along for the ride.
See: Snatch, Twelve Monkeys, True Romance, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Kalifornia.
Nearly twenty years ago Brad Pitt was born in a hotel room on top of Geena Davis. Here was the gleaming youth, the daunting Adonis. Pitt still uses this brighter, simpler persona, and when he does we get the closest thing to a boy with flaws. He’ll share top billing with a lady of comparable star power and he’ll play that charming, petulant young man who’s used to getting his way. He needs to grow up a bit, but he’s never forced to do so. We forgive him and love him. He grins when caught, and pouts when his plans fail. He whines and begs or he simply doesn’t care. Either way he remains forcefully static. The women (or partners) realize they love his bullheadedness and he is allowed to continue in his way as long as he smiles.
See: The Mexican, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Burn After Reading, his life.
Whatever the mode, his bad times are beyond us. Achilles contemplates the best option of immortality. Rusty might have bought the wrong hotel. Benjamin just has a great fucking time aging backwards, tasting Russian jam and burdening the hell out of Cate Blanchett. Will Tyler Durden change the world? How should we even care? These are not problems with which we can relate. We relate more to Ford’s
confusion as to what answers Jesse sought in beheading that snake. We find ourselves lost along side his angry friends in Sleepers. In Legends of the Fall, when Pitt totally loses it, he does so on such a huge scale that we, his mesmerized family, stand back and watch the giant converse with God, kill bears and brood in a pile of women on a boat sailing across the sky. We are dwarfed. We are petty. He doesn’t get hurt. He doesn’t wonder what to do next. He never has a dilemma. His characters never look bad, and therefore, neither does he.
What does it mean when the world’s largest star only portrays men who are better than his co-stars? I think we are happy to have him above us. It helps. We have a goal. A parameter. A Ceiling. A god. I believe he is a god. I believe he is better than me. I believe he, and his roles, are great. I want to see him glow, and I don’t know why.
In World War Z, Pitt is still the perfect man and the World is the struggling co-star. He still knows more than we do. He still doesn’t share what he knows until he must. He still is the smartest guy on the planet. The only person who was open and really in trouble in World War Z was Brad Pitt the movie producer. And we all knew it. He put his own money into it. He was in jeopardy, at risk. We all knew his character in the film would survive and save the world, but could Pitt save himself in real life with this movie?
No. We did. We saved him. Because we love him and can’t have him fail. I prayed with my attendance. I told everyone to see it. We prayed to god. And he smiled upon us.
Brad Neely created “Wizard People, Dear Readers”, “George Washington”, “I Am Baby Cakes” and “The Professor Brothers”, all on Creased Comics. His TV show “China, IL” will air its second season in half hour episodes this September on Adult Swim.