The Dichotomy of Arnold By Pat Bishow. I was at home watching a trailer for The Sixth Day when my wife walked by the TV and said “He’s already done this film...
I was at home watching a trailer for The Sixth Day when my wife walked by the TV and said “He’s already done this film.”
I quickly interjected, “No, Schwarzenegger has never been cloned before.” She replied, “He’s always getting cloned.”
That started me thinking. Like all true artists, has Arnold been wrestling with a theme? I think he is. He’s been undergoing a major identity crisis!
The immigrant son of Austrian parents (whose father is rumored to have been in the SS), Arnold came to America where he found his niche by embracing the fascist philosophy of Reaganism. His first few “breakthrough” films support the fact that Arnold is a real man’s man. In 1982’s Conan The Barbarian, he plays a tough guy roaming an untamed world trying to find “himself.” In Commando, he’s another tough guy getting revenge. Yeah, that’s a man’s man all right. In Terminator, he’s a bad-ass. There are subtle clues in those movies but, as Arnold’s career progressed, themes of identity crisis began to become more apparent.
In Raw Deal, he’s more than just the tough guy, now he’s a misunderstood tough guy who’s been forced to give up his life as a FBI agent to become a small time sheriff. In The Running Man, he has been framed! He’s not the guy you think he is. He’s really not a tough guy at heart. It’s only when he’s forced into that mold does he show his macho persona.
In Twins, Arnold tried to show that he’s really more like Danny DeVito than that Commando guy! He to demonstrate that he’s a sensitive, “regular” guy. In trying to explain the departure from his earlier films, he responds with “I love comedy,” when asked to summarize this film. Publicly, he’s not talking about his identity crisis. Instead, Arnold reveals it in his art (like any true artist). It is in Twins, too, that science plays a crucial role in Arnold’s dichotomy.
In Kindergarten Cop, Arnold’s character masks his identity to go undercover in the classroom. There’s still a glimpse of the tough guy from the past in the way he still applies his simple reasoning to tough situations like kicking the ass of a parent to stop child abuse. (We all know that would work, right?) But, at least he’s worried about child abuse even if he doesn’t possess a realistic solution. But since when is Arnold realistic, anyway?
His character in Total Recall wakes to discover that his memory is gone. Who is this guy? He finds out his past is fake, or is it his present? He can’t decide or doesn’t know? This film marks his first all-out expedition into his identity crisis theme. As we see in his next few films, this theme is really the secret to Arnold’s success.
In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, he returns for the big money and sure, he’s a bad ass, but a bad ass with a heart. He chooses only to maim people rather than to kill them. Sure, they’ll never walk again, but at least they’ll be able to breathe! Yes, yes, he’s truly misunderstood.
In The Last Action Hero, Arnold fully embraces the idea of having multiple identities. He’s not hiding his crisis anymore-in fact, his character meets up with the “real” Arnold. Boy, he’s not happy (the character, that is - or is it?). Maybe this is more than just a peek at the dark side to Arnold’s fame.
In my opinion, his next film, True Lies, is the high point of his exploration of identity crisis. His career, from this point on, is so well established that he can pick his pictures based on the way he feels about them-who’s going to argue with Arnold? In True Lies, Arnold admits he’s a deception. The audience has to decide which is the lie (he’s not going to tell usI’m not sure he knows). Part of the deceit is pretending to live the life of an ordinary family man. The ordinary family man seems to be who Arnold deep down wishes he was. Nevertheless, he must face the fact that he’s bigger than life or, in the case of his character in True Lies, a super spy. The angst he experiences is illustrated in his treatment of his wife. Who can forget that amazingly sadistic scene where after kidnapping his wife, he imprisons her in an interrogation room and then later forces her to dance for him in her underwear? Strong stuff, Arnold! His life and family are truly conflict-ridden. The film ends with his wife jumping into his extraordinary career-maybe one of his fantasies?
After True Lies, he takes a head-on approach to his crisis. In Junior, Arnold tries to get in touch with his feminine side. He helps others lose their identities in Eraser. In Jingle All The Way, the audience is left to decide whether he is a simple family man who tries to please everyone or a superhero (or superstar). Arnold fights the devil in End of Days and becomes possessed. This brings us to The Sixth Day. Now he’s been cloned. Which is the real Arnold? What is this sensitive bad-ass really all about? “You’ve cloned the wrong man!” protests a seemingly secure Arnold. It seems The Sixth Day has become a last ditch effort to salvage his crisis theme. How more blatant can he get? But by now it seems old and tired (not unlike Arnold himself). It’s enough to make my wife and, I’m sure, countless others think of him as being always cloned is his movies. If Arnold wants to remain a superstar, he just might need to rethink this theme of confused identities. Arnold’s career has been on a downturn ever since True Lies, which in my opinion, was his best stab at his inner struggle (very ironic). But there is a silver lining to this film pursuit of his identity. Seeing him in this new light puts him in the company of Scorcese’s inner punishment, Tim Burton’s begging for misfits to be accepted, and Woody Allen’s guilt over pleasures of the flesh. Oddly enough, to me, this makes Arnold a true film artist!