Why Timothee Chalamet means something.

I believe it was the Bard himself who once said, “Some are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them”, and to that I say, that may be true Bill, but ALL depends on the will of the public. The silent film actor Rudolph Valentino once stated, rather darkly, that “I am the canvas upon which people paint their desires”. This can be said for both male and female actors of any period. What are they but heavily feted public figures, lauded for their looks and talents? How they captivate us on screen, watching as their name flies up the opening credits, we root for them like demigods who are incapable of wrong. We project our innermost desires and imaginings on them- which, for them, serves an awesome responsibility.

Projection. Celebrity worship. Veneration. By this outsiders observations, it seems ultimately hallow. Every few years we throw another young vestil Hollywood virgin on the pyre and set them aflame to laud and worship. Why? You may notice that decidedly cynical tone of this so far, but that’s actually not the direction I’m leading to. This is why, upon a recent viewing of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”, I came to a sterling conclusion.

Timothee Chalamet means something.

While I dont seek to undermine anyone’s talents, in the past few years, I feel the paradigm of the Hollywood leading man has become sort of a contorted , modernized caricature of the 40’s male. Personalities, though at one time, unique, beginning to feel a bit processed, hypersexualized and for lack of a better word, macho. You’re only as good as your most recent cover of Esquire. Now, I have no issue with that, for some of these actors do damn fine work.

That said, this young man, svelte, stylish, barely into his twenties, theatrically trained though seemingly sprung from nowhere, represents a paradigm shift. What do I mean? Look at him. The way he carries himself. His eyes speak of old wisdom. There’s not a single empty pocket of his being, even if he is simply doing a bit part. The way he plays the camera, knowingly, a boyish innocence juxtaposed with a dark intelligence well beyond his years. He’s aware of this.

A good example is in his film “Beautiful Boy” where he portrays a drug addled youth. In a pivotal scene, he sits adjacent to his father played by Steve Carrell and pleads for money. In that moment, his youthful features still pristine, though tarnished by meth, his aura reads like something from a Jim Carroll novel. His behavior erratic, screaming madly, eyes bloodshot, arms flailing. His face, weathered before its time. He resembles a ruined cupid. A character sprung from a painting; in this moment, he is the mourning Orpheus, cresting the underworld alone again. A poisoned Romeo. A weeping prince arriving just too late to give the life saving kiss. You want to protect him, though you know you cannot, as his youthful willfulness seems set on destroying him slowly. His inner narrative not some pre packaged Instagram ready lothario posturing, but a grieving Tristan. A young and cold Chatterton sprawled out on a daybed, cold and blue, yet still smiling.

Watch this scene sometime and analyze it. He is a master of this moment and traces something evocative and raw deep within him to conceive a persona that is at one time selfish and naive, yet at the same time, disarmingly pitiful. There’s a wisdom, but a tangible helplessness.

That is really the great enigmatic quality of Timothee Chalamet. The visual poetry of another, more youthful, yet old world distilled and made attainable for jaded, superfluous, technologically obsessed modern world. One can easily see Chalamet in the thirties and twenties era of film making. He seems tailor made for the pageantry of a gone Hollywood. Regardless if he realizes it or not, he is the return to a long deceased world of great lovers. The high vaulting whimsy of John Barrymore, Errol Flynn or Valentino, yet with the accessibility of the video game loving boy next door in a Vans hoodie and sneakers.

His eyes produce a yearning for another , richer, older realm. One you’re certain he knows very well.

Case in point, the final scene in the film “Call me by your name”. His character Elio, watches a roaring fire, having just spoken to an older man, Oliver, with whom he shared a romantic summer. Now Oliver is far away. Now its just Elio again. With his parents. Just being another teenager on his walkman. As though nothing happened at all. Yet as he stares into those flames, and slowly begins to weep, an indecipherable yearning is evoked in his eyes. This is genuinely relatable. Anyone who has had and lost something, knowing full well it can never return, at least not the same way, or ever be replicated, knows this feeling. It is pain beyond measure. It is a feeling of being totally hallow. It is secrets. It is internal solitude. Yet deep in the the center of all of this, is fragile, lingering beauty. The beauty of perfect memories- and as Elio weeps , he slowly smiles again, returning to those moments back in Oliver’s arms. In the bliss of a secret Mediterranean summer, wanting for nothing. For though they may have passed, no matter how baleful the loss, they still existed- and will live within both of them forever.

Chalamet knows the truths of the human condition. Fear, lust, passion, joy, hope, and even utter damnation- and plays them to the core of his being, assembling them in a face that seems too precious, genuine and true for the brassy impersonal world of celebrity, decadence, and hollow noise that the Hollywood film industry seemingly revels in. Theres in him, a genuine substance in a highly disingenuous realm. A Monet painting lifted from the Louvre and passed through a cheap gallery in a tawdry shopping mall.

As I write these words, young Timothee continues to move up the pipeline of stardom. From a role as Henry V of england in “The King”, to ” a reimagining of “Dune”. I’m glad for him, but worry. Maybe it’s an older brotherly instinct in me. Hollywood is a mean place to say the least, and there’s far more stars cracked and stained on pavement then there are in the sky. You’re only as good as those whom you surround yourself with, or how big your last hit was, what parties you go to and what your workout routine is like and the designer you’re wearing-and everyone wants a piece of you. Ultimately, it seems like a vacant and meaningless dance. Few survive, even fewer still come out of it well. What will become of this feather haired enigma of French ancestry from New York City? In a few years, will he be pushed to the sidelines as another takes his place, hurled down the pipeline, and be reduced to a sad caricature of himself? If I could make a guess, I wouldn’t say that. He has already transcended most his age, so far as style, artistry and shear talent and guile goes, matching creative wits with those twice his years. So, perhaps we need him. If only to remind us what a soul looks like. Feels like. Thinks like. Yearns for. Forever in flux and bound to nor iron clad ideals of masculinity, conceiving moments through the soul of his art alone.

Why the point of this musing? No reason. Just a feeling that needed saying. Bringing me back to my original inquiry. Why does Timothee Chalamet mean something? Put simply-

His is a soul from another era with the grit to make it in this one. Put even simpler?

He is truly, unflinchingly, embodied.


Image courtesy of Interview Magazine

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