I am choosing to write this paper on the movie Tropic Thunder, directed by Ben Stiller, starring Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. This dark comedy may be one of the worst movies ever made but I am a guy and most guys are drawn to movies that are riddled with stupid humor. The first time I watched this movie I was completely entertained, and did not consider the deeper message behind its flawed characters. However, when considering the themes proposed by this assignment, I realized that this ridiculous movie did in fact have deeper, relevant meaning.
In summary, this picture takes place in Southeast Asia, where a cast and crew of successful Hollywood stars set out to make a movie about the Vietnam War. Unbeknown to the actors, the film’s director, who was extremely unhappy with the movie’s progress, plants the actors into and actual Vietnam war zone. The stars continue to act out their scenes completely unaware that they are in the mists of genuine drug lords and real gunfire. Upon assessment of the movie’s characters, it becomes clear that the all three main actors are suffering from some type of identity crisis.
Jack Black’s character suffers from a severe drug addiction resulting from believing that he is appreciated solely for his acting abilities regardless his true self. Robert Downey Jr. ‘s identity crisis is manifested in his inability to value himself. His self-loathing motivates him to change his skin color from white to black, so that he can reinvent his persona. Self-identity, or rather a lack of, plays another crucial role in the movie’s actor, Brandon T. Jackson, who portrays a character who struggles with the fact that he is a gay black man.
He is a man depicted as a macho, rap artist who routinely seduces young women. In truth, Brandon’s character is in love with a man named Lance and thus he hates himself for not living a genuine life. I chose the movie Tropic Thunder because it successfully and humorously interpreted the connection between a meager self-identity and its effects on addiction, self-loathing, and homosexuality. Jack Black’s character is a typical addict who finds refuge in tainted “jellybeans” that allow him to escape reality.
In truth, Jack’s character is a lot like that the many young people who today who find relief and refuge in being high. Initially Jack’s character cannot function without his drug and fully believes he is at his best when doped up. But when he is suddenly forced into the jungle, deprived of his stash, he suffers from withdrawal and eventually kicks his addiction. Removing Hollywood fantasy from this scenario, this is what I imagine all addicts hope to experience when they attend rehab. Withdrawal must be hellish but once sober, like Jack’s character, rehab patients have to locate an inner strength.
This strength will need to be relied upon when facing difficult circumstances. I realize that not every addict is successful at breaking their addiction; therefore, I believe the more important question concerning addition is, why do so many people turn to drugs? Some professionals will say it is a genetic problem. Others claim it is environmental problem. I believe most addicts are a lot like Jack’s character in that they lack some element of authentic love. Jack’s character did not feel accepted for his genuine self; he did not believe that people valued him as a real person.
Isn’t this how we all feel at times? Perhaps never feeling loved for who we really are is the reason addiction is soaring. If people could learn to be less judgmental and more empathetic perhaps everyone would benefit. Identity problems also cause problems for the character of Robert Downey Jr. Here, a prosperous white man decides to change his skin color to black in hopes of winning his role. Robert’s character constantly needs to be at the center of the universe, drawing attention at all costs.
When he dyes his skin he completely loses his old identity and takes on the persona of an African American. In becoming black, he begins to takes on the speech patterns and gestures of a stereotypical black man. This is much like the youth of today who join gangs outside their ethnicity or kids that suddenly reinvent themselves with unusual clothing and/or makeup. Today it is not uncommon for young people lose their identities in romantic relationships. Instead of being themselves, they become the person that they believe others want them to be.
Like Robert’s character, maybe these kids lacked the acceptance in their younger years that would have helped him develop a healthy self-esteem. Again, a lack of self-love seems to be at the root of problems concerning identity. Finally, homosexuality is the origin of the movie’s final identity struggle. Here, Brandon T. Jackson portrays a successful black rapper who pretends to like the ladies while in fact he is actually gay. Brandon’s character is in love with a man by the name of Lance so he is living a double life when he must pretend to be interested in women.
This must be the greatest identity crisis of all. It may seem difficult to imagine that current society would frown upon a gay person yet it happens. Often we hear of men who marry women and have children only to realize years later they are gay. Society continues to put pressure on homosexuals to conform to mainstream lifestyles and this is must be one reason why so many gays have difficulty “coming out”. Although current attitude is slowly changing, characters like the one portrayed by Brandon Jackson still exist.
Suicide, addiction, and self-hatred are often the result of not being able to live an authentic life. While Tropic Thunder could be viewed as an agglomeration of tasteless humor and second-rate acting, the message within its mediocre script is extremely relevant. Its theme is immersed in self-identity struggles, relative to modern society. Drug addiction, self-loathing, and homosexuality are topics that consume the minds today’s young people. Hopefully through discussion, unconditional love, and true acceptance we can hope to overcome the tragedies of an identity crisis.