Casey Affleck Is Smarter Than New York Magazine

The nice thing about Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix’s documentary/fiction/hoax/movie/happening, I’m Still Here, is that it pretty clearly succeeds as art. I haven’t seen the part of the I’m Still Here project that consists of bright moving images serially projected on a screen—

the “movie.”

But other people have, and so Affleck and Phoenix have

made them performers

in the larger, more interesting enterprise.

It was New York magazine’s Vulture blog that

really sold the project

. Writer Kyle Buchanan reacted with disdain upon learning that the movie was not actually a documentary of Phoenix’s decline into madness. If people weren’t watching a celebrity self-destruct on camera, then what…


were they supposed to understand they were watching?

Summarizing Affleck’s post-reveal

interview with Roger Ebert

, Buchanan writes, “the filmmaker still can’t really explain why he made the movie.” Here’s what Affleck actually said:

This was the best way I could think of to tell this story, about this character.


There are ideas in the film that are interesting to me. I don’t have a point to make, though. If it feels like a cautionary tale, what would be the warning? When you have a dream and others tell you, you are no good, give it up? Don’t become famous? Prepare, practice and use stepping stones? Or maybe don’t be incredibly mean to those around you? Some things seems too obvious, some seem lacking. I don’t know the point. I only know that it is of course in some way about celebrity culture. Its about fame, in some way. I don’t know what it says exactly but I know that it makes me wonder when I watch it.

So he made the movie because he wanted to make the movie, as a way of addressing certain subjects and ideas he had on his mind. But having made the movie—or having staged a two-year

immersive multimedia performance

of which the movie is a partial document—he is unable to neatly say what the point of it is.

Nor have the critics been able to

come around to agreement

about what they’ve been through. That’s a feat in itself: to have put out a movie, in the year 2010, that people can’t figure out how they’re supposed to react to.

The premise of New York magazine under Adam Moss is that all art—actually, everything in the world—is reducible to a correct reaction,

including the reactions themselves

. There is no story that can’t be explained in

a subheadline

; the best stories could be subheadlines before anyone even reported them. This is why New York is hailed as the magazine of the moment. Its complaint about I’m Still Here is that it doesn’t make sense as a work of kitsch.