American Splendor

Ambivalent Recommendation. This is an interesting movie based on the real life, below average existence of pessimist Harvey Pekar, a file clerk who became a comic book legend (along with a couple of his coworkers). The movie is done with some very creative self-reflective storytelling. Though the film is a dramatic narrative, there is an occasional cutaway to the real Harvey Pekar in documentary style self-reference, commenting on the movie and interacting with the actors. Harvey even comments on how the actor playing him doesn’t really look like him (he actually does). The premise is the premise of the comicbook, namely that Harvey is inspired by his hum drum existence and pessimistic perspective to make a comic book about “real” life, about the insanity of normalcy, to combat the unrealistic flights of fancy that most people read about in comics (and the movies in this case). His mantra throughout is that people need to face “reality” and stop living in dream worlds. Interesting though that the film is self-aware that it is NOT reality with its documentary anecdotes and the comicbook style cinematography. Harvey gets cancer and we go through this part of his life as well, the “reality” of it being edited down to brief references. And that is the central deceit of “realism.” Whose “reality” is reality? To suggest that one’s own perceptions and interpretations of reality (Harvey’s being pessimistic) are the center of the universe, the “true reality” that others are missing, is perhaps the most ignorant and unreal self-absorbed arrogance. To claim privilege of perception is the prerogative of deity. So realism is actually more akin to original sin: pride. A better story would be for Harvey to grow up and realize that maybe there is a “reality” outside of his perception and negativity. That indeed, HE is the one who is blind to a world of possibilities outside of himself. It’s a fallen world, yes, but it is fallen splendor, a world created by God as “good,” with much pain, but much beauty. Wake up, Harvey. You’re in the Matrix.

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