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Joaquin Phoenix Documentary 'I'm Still Here': Hoax or Not?

Dee Doyle Dee Doyle
September 14th, 2010 11:20am EDT

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In late 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was retiring from acting and going to try his hand at being a rap artist. The general response was: is this a hoax and/or what the heck is he thinking? Since then, neither opinion has changed in the least. The hoax idea really became more prevalent when it was said that his brother-in-law Casey Affleck was following him around with cameras and filming everything. Now their film I'm Still Here is being released to wide audiences on September 17th, and reviewers are still not absolutely certain if the film is a hoax or  a real look at an actor losing his mind.

I have a personal story to go with this, because I was at one of the media events for Phoenix's last indie film Two Lovers. We were interviewing most of the cast except for Phoenix, who kept in a private room, and anyone interviewing him had to give permission to Casey Affleck, who was also there, for him to film them. Even then the reporters were all buzzing about why Affleck was there, why Phoenix apparently looked like a homeless man, and what did the other actors think about this tour being messed up by Phoenix's new look? The director thought it was crazy and said so, but his co-stars mostly just shrugged. They had no idea what it was, so whatever Phoenix was doing, he kept it fairly close to the chest.

The first public display of Phoneix's new 'character' was on the Late Show with David Letterman. He barely responded to any questions and got annoyed when people laughed at his claims he was going to become a rapper. There were videos circulating on YouTube of his performances and clips of the movie being filmed with Phoenix, but there still was no official word on whether or not it was a hoax. Even now, when the movie was aired in limited release and about to become worldwide, neither Affleck or Phoenix have claimed what it is.

The movie itself is said to be a documentary (or mockumentary) about Phoenix quitting the business and attempting to struggle into a new niche when no one believes in him. Apparently there includes male nudity, a man defecating on Phoenix, drugs, sex, and basically Phoenix having a nervous breakdown on film. Because there is no answer to what this movie actually is, the responses so far are mixed. It's currently at 53% on Rotten Tomatoes for this very reason.

Chances are this is probably a hoax. Phoenix is known to have his moments of method acting and this is the perfect project for an actor who really likes to delve into the psyche of his character. Ruining his life would only have trouble for a few years before he can come out and state it was all for the art. It seems a bit too smart for someone making such a blatant mess of their career, and since Affleck is Phoenix's brother-in-law, it's very unlikely he would sit around and let someone he cared about be destroyed for the sake of a documentary. He'd certainly have a divorce ahead of him if his wife thought he was exploiting her brother's drug habit and watching someone defecate on him while doing nothing! So using all forms of logic, this seems like a Borat-inspired drama. Or maybe it's more Andy Kaufman-esque, fooling the entire world and then letting us all in on the joke when they're finally ready.

But will the world be laughing with them at the end of the day? Maybe just because of their sheer pluck at pulling this off! Whatever the case, we'll have to see what the end result is of this two year long drama. I'm Still Here is in wide release this Friday, September 17th.

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Photo Credits: Magnolia.