Tuesday 14 October 2014


It is a harmful and reductive misunderstanding that creative genius is directly related to childhood trauma or mental health issues. Biographies of artists focus on their struggle with these things making it seem as if creativity itself came into existence because of the severe obstacles rather than in spite of them, and the idea of a tragic backstory becomes an easier explanation for artistic output than a more complex investigation of an artist’s work. 
Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), decidedly not the main character of the film (hence the title) but performing as a skewed lens through which Michael Fassbender’s titular Frank is viewed, is a definite follower of that fallacy, except his reasons are more heinous than simply attempting to understand the object of his investigation. An aspiring artist, he seems to be incapable of creating an original work of art, constantly “finding inspiration” in his surroundings (and appropriating other people’s stories and feelings for his songs), catching himself again and again in simply recreating songs that already exist. With that background, his life is permanently changed once he meets Frank and the band that he plays with. He stumbles into these people’s lives accidentally and is recruited when one of the original band members attempts to commit suicide. It’s the first hint at what kind of person this haphazard young man is, when instead of caring about the well-being of the keyboard player he is about to replace, he is more concerned about making sure that he stays unavailable so he can fully enjoy his time in the spotlight. 
He plays a gig with them and then finds himself drawn further into the band’s world when they ask him to go to a remote cabin and record their first album with them. All the while, his actual artistic contribution to the process remains elusive, and his attempts to create something of his own or even to advance the band in any way seems to fail as he falls into the same generic patterns he followed before, failing to impress the other band members (but being supported quite enthusiastically by Frank). Instead of contributing musically, Jon decides to document the progress of the recording, but fails to share that he is doing so with the other band members, therefore constantly invading their privacy, uploading their every personal moment of creativity and creation online for an audience to see. It goes well with the ambiguity of the band itself, the unpronounceable name and the lead singer constantly hidden under a paper mâché head – what is actually an expression of Frank’s inability to create something popular and accessible, which is what he desperately wants to do but can’t (the scenes where he performs his “popular” songs are both haunting and funny, as what should be popular is worked through his mind and reshaped into something entirely different), turns into an easily marketable oddity in Jon’s hands, something that sets the band apart just enough to be readily ingested by a steadily growing audience. What Jon fails to realize until the last moment, when it is already too late, is that the elusiveness of the band, the way that it doesn’t look for an audience but merely accidentally finds it, provides a safe haven for Frank, the perfect conditions for him to still create without the anxiety inducing pressures that he crumbles under once Jon gets his wish and turns the band into something it was never meant to be. This conflict plays out between Jon and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the band’s enigmatic Theremin player (when robbed of her Theremin, still recreating the eerie noise with her singing voice) who is fiercely protective of Frank, but not because of selfish reasons but out of a profound understanding of his struggles. Jon isn’t even interested in understanding Frank, he has already applies his interpretation of where his art comes from, because it provides him with an excuse for his lack of creativity – he blames his relatively happy childhood on not being able to fit into the band musically, and his lack of ability to consider the other option – that he just isn’t a good artist, or that his closed mind prevents him from being one – means that he never manages to grow throughout the film, and becomes a hazard to Frank’s stability. He almost manages to destroy Frank completely, taking away the collective of the band from him which is the one thing that gives him an environment in which he can function as a person and as an artist, taking away Clara, who is so good at taking care of him. In his obsession to be part of a phenomenon, to find fame on someone else’s shoulders, he disregards anybody else’s feelings. In the end, Jon realizes that he’s been wrong all this time, that Frank is not driven by his childhood demons, and instead has parents who are protective and loving, that he is an artist in spite of his illness, not because of it. He can no longer blame his own shortcomings on anything but himself, and his presence in the story that was never his own, as much as he tried to make it his own, becomes unnecessary. 
Finally, when Frank returns to his band, the film captures the sheer joy and beauty of sharing a passion, of creating together, of finding the perfect balance and intimacy in one glorious song, every element with its own place and the sum greater than all the parts. At its core, Frank is a film about art and music stripped of any artificiality, focused completely on the beauty of that one moment. 

2014, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, MAggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil, Carla Azar, Scoot McNairy. 

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