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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:09 PM Vince Vaughn Will Star in True Detective Season 2
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.