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Nicolas Cage: Acting genius or mindless meme?


Teetering the line between experimental innovator and cinematic provocateur, Nicolas Cage is an acting enigma whose influences supposedly lie in the very earliest forms of the craft. This is certainly hard to believe when he flails his body across the street in Vampire’s Kiss, screaming: “I’m a vampire”or hisses at the camera in the awful Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance. However, look further back and you may find truth to this theory. 

Dubbed “the jazz musician of actors” by master filmmaker David Lynch in an interview with the Washington PostNicolas Cage’s experimental approach to his craft first appeared in Vampire’s Kiss with the surrealism of The Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona eclipsing the actor’s early eccentricities. Here, Cage engaged with a new operatic form of performance involving stylised body movements and accentuated facial expressions. His role as protagonist, Peter Loew, a man convinced he’s becoming a vampire, became Cage’s own sandbox of research and development. Though, to general audiences, he was making a mockery of himself. 

Fast forward to the cataclysmic explosion of internet culture in the early 21st century, and Nicolas Cage was quickly evolving into a figurehead for internet surrealism, becoming an icon and meme on forums as early as 2005 in the post ‘Nicolas Cage loves Mario Kart’. This quickly built momentum and led to popular flash animations in 2010, along with an auction of $1,000,000 for a photograph of Nicolas Cage’s 1870 lookalike. Nicolas Cage was quickly becoming a commodity of popular internet culture. 

Speaking to The Guardian in 2013 about his newfound online fame, the actor stated, “I don’t know why it is happening. I’m trying not to… lemme say this: I’m now of the mindset that, when in Rome, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, and to some extent, this is precisely what he did. Granted, it would take four years of stagnancy until he fully embraced this new identity, appearing in multiple corresponding political action films before Mom and Dad until he would revisit this idiosyncratic ‘insanity’. 

Playing a maniacal father fixated on murdering his children, his performance features all the hallmarks the actor now ubiquitous with a Nicolas Cage performance, including cartoon facial expressions and an eclectic choice of vocabulary. It’s a ridiculous, exaggerated version of the Nicolas Cage that the internet invented, an inflated version of his Vampire’s Kiss character.

The actor himself alleges that his unique style is born from genuine technique, naming his own method, ‘Nouveau Shamanic’ in an interview with Movieline, elaborating in his Guardian interview that it is inspired by “watching movies like The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, and Nosferatu and Fellini’s Juliet Of The Spirits when I was five years old”. 

Continuing, he notes, “If you look at Vampire’s Kiss, it’s all about that memory of Nosferatu; that Germanic, expressionistic acting style”. 

This clearly became a way of marketing his own novel method of acting, leading Nicolas Cage to such memorable projects as David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and his Oscar-winning performance in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas. Spanning a time period of a little over a decade, from 1990-2002, Nicolas Cage was widely regarded as among the finest Hollywood actors in spite of his unique style, though, crucially, he consistently entrusted his time with quality filmmakers. The likes of Spike Jonze, writer Charlie Kaufman and David Lynch are renowned professionals in their field and conduct orchestral precision on-set to ensure that everything plays into a certain style and vision. Though as David Lynch stated: “He’s looking for complicated notes in his acting. And if you don’t channel him or ride herd on him, it could become frightening music”. 

Without the strict reins of a virtuoso filmmaker, Nicolas Cage can embrace a side to his acting style that is simply too self-indulgent, appealing to the strange internet culture he has become a victim to. Recognising the economic value of his own absurdism, his unique style has been bought as a commodity and stuck in the front window of MandyWilly’s Wonderland and the upcoming Prisoners of the Ghostland. Without the right guidance and with the exploits of production companies, Cage is being let off the leash but only as a way to improve economic value and not to challenge the medium of acting. 

There’s no doubt that Nicolas Cage is a fantastic actor and an eccentric experimenter to be celebrated, but this new brand of the actor is merely a guise of quality, shallow in its actual value. Like all great experimenter’s he’s going through a phase, and a fascinating one at that, informed by the surreal influence of popular internet culture, though it lacks the true artistic form of his late 20th-century success. 

To once again seize greatness, the wild stallion Nicolas Cage merely needs to be tamed.