If Flawless is a title for anything, it is all about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in the homonymous film where his character, a pre-op transsexual drag queen assists Robert De Niro’s character with his rehabilitation after a stroke.
Walt suffers the stroke after a mob boss by the name of Mr. Z storms the building looking for some money a prostitute, living in the same long term motel as Rusty and Walt, has taken. The movie revolves around Walt’s and Rusty’s tempestuous relationship with frequent interruptions by Mr. Z’s attempts to recover his money by going through all the building’s residents and threatening them. Walt happens to be a homophobic bigot and Rusty a gay drag queen who has to fight with his own demons as well as everyone else’s bias. Though the movie is touching it didn’t tackle a new issue. Homophobia is a topic often rendered well in film therefore it was only exceptional due to Hoffman’s performance and it served to remind what a loss of talent his untimely death was.
The reason for this blog post wasn’t so much to discuss the movie, but something I noticed as interesting towards the end. It was during a scene in an ambulance where Rusty commands the driver to rush them to the nearest hospital by saying, “You heard Nurse Ratched, burn rubber girl, we’re going up town!” that got me thinking. Incidentally the bit where he tries to get into the ambulance by claiming to be De Niro’s sister, was pure acting and comedy gold.
What the aforementioned scene brought to mind was the role of fiction within fiction. One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest (1975) is one of movie world’s classic insane asylum films and nurse Ratched, the terrorizing Matron, has become synonymous with cruelty and abuse of power.
But I digress; I was struck by Rusty’s reference to the ambulance driver as Nurse Ratched, not because she did anything to simulate her, but simply due to her medical capacity. The reference highlighted Ratched’s recognition in popular culture and it served to remind the viewer of the sentiments evoked by her when they saw the film, as well as illustrate Rusty’s need to make an emphatic if not misogynistic point with a clever insult in a moment of urgency.
The moment when one character in a work of fiction refers to another imaginary personality is the moment where the two pieces somehow transcend narrative and become woven in a place where both instances could be real. The viewer is drawn into a moment where the suspension of disbelief brings Rusty into this universe, “the real world” as another person who’s seen One flew over… and makes us relate to him and his plight all that more. It is a brilliant humanizing tool which connects the viewer and the character, because no one who has seen the movie will have failed to be moved and disturbed by nurse Ratched in the way that we are led to understand Rusty was. In that moment of looking at fiction, through fiction we are brought face to face with Rusty in a very subtle and yet poignant way.
I might not be able to understand what recovering from a stroke feels like or what it’s like to be homosexual and experiencing discrimination, but in that moment I am connected with him in our mutual hatred for this infamous nasty character. After all, does fiction not become real once we have all consumed it? Who can deny the existence of Oliver Twist or Romeo and Juliet? In many ways they have shaped our lives far more intensely than most “real people” ever will.