A few thoughts on the mannered weirdness of Nicolas Cage.

Reviews of the latest films.
July 22 2010 9:07 PM

The Heat-Seeking Panther

A few thoughts on the mannered weirdness of Nicolas Cage.

(Continued from Page 1)

There can be no doubt that many of Cage's odd career choices have been motivated by a combination of the actor's personal vanity and his gargantuan spending habits. (Until his recent near-bankruptcy, Cage owned at least 13 homes, including a Bavarian castle and two entire islands in the Bahamas. In 2007, he won a bidding war against Leonardo DiCaprio for a 67-million-year-old dinosaur skull.) But in the latest phase of his career—let's say post-2004, the year of the first National Treasure movie—Cage seems to have moved beyond the concept of "selling out" into a realm that weds schlock and art. When he writhes in agony beneath a mask of bees at the end of Neil LaBute's otherwise dreadful 2006 remake of the cult horror classic The Wicker Man ("No! Not the bees!"), Cage resembles no actor so much as Vincent Price in the early '60s Roger Corman adaptations of Poe stories—movies that were made as cheap potboilers but now play as minor pop masterpieces in large part thanks to Price's craftsmanlike dedication.

When Cage takes on these outsize B-movie roles, I don't believe for a moment that he is just nodding wearily to his agent (and his accountant). I think he's fulfilling a vision, albeit one that looks inscrutable from the outside, of choosing roles in the kind of movies he himself loves. Remember that Cage is a lifelong devotee of comic books—his collection was auctioned off for $1.6 million in 2002—and that he named his second son Kal-El, after the birth name of Superman. Cage may mix lowbrow and high, but with rare exceptions ( Matchstick Men, The Weather Man), he doesn't do straightforward middlebrow dramas. And his high and low choices have a lot in common: Both evince the taste of a man drawn to extremes of experience.


Cage may have provided an encoded, National Treasure-style map to what he was up to in his career when he said, in an oft-quoted interview: "I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion." In this scene from Bad Lieutenant, as Cage's rogue cop character takes a hit from his "lucky crack pipe" and then cackles with glee at iguanas and breakdancing corpses invisible to everyone but him, I'd argue that Cage is finally fulfilling that dream.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Correction, July 26, 2010: This article incorrectly identified Corman's Poe adaptations as having appeared in the late '60s.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
Oct. 22 2014 9:00 AM Wailing Against the Pansies: Homophobia in Whiplash
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 AM Nine Actors Remember Their Famous Horror-Movie Deaths
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.