Run to the Rescue with Love

Joaquin Phoenix’s Hollywood Sermon

Sarah Woodard / 2.19.20

I have always been a sucker for award shows. All my favorite celebrities in one place dressed in outrageous—and outrageously expensive—Chanel suits and Dior haute couture gowns, giving photo shoots, interviews, speeches, and performances? Yes please. I was especially invested in the Oscars this year because with a few friends I had tried (unsuccessfully) to watch all the films nominated for Best Picture. We did get through a lot of them, most of us agreeing that Little Women was our favorite and hoping the Academy could magically hear us yelling through our TV Screens about their depriving Greta Gerwig of a well-deserved Best Director nomination for her beautifully and brilliantly shot film. But all of us were happy to see Parasite take home the big prize, as the first non-English-language film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

But there is at least one person who most definitely is not a sucker for award shows. And he also happens to be the person who won the Academy Award for Best Actor. If you didn’t watch, that man is Joaquin Phoenix, who claimed his first Oscar for his performance—at once tragic, electrifying, dark, repulsive, and brilliant—as the perverse clown Arthur Fleck in Joker. But Phoenix does not seem to be lured by the shiny gold awards and promise of prestige. In 2012, responding to an awards-related question, he declared to Interview’s Elvis Mitchell: “I’m just saying that I think it’s bullshit. I think it’s total, utter bullshit, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t believe in it. It’s a carrot, but it’s the worst-tasting carrot I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. I don’t want this carrot.”

Well, however much he doesn’t want these “carrots,” he has now garnered quite a few of them for his role in Joker, the most notable being the SAGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and, most recently, the Oscar. His discomfort with award ceremonies is apparent in many of his speeches, which are notoriously rambling, politicizing, and profane. After hearing his name called for winning the Screen Actors Guild this year, he actually looked pissed. If you don’t believe me, watch his reaction for yourself. Seriously, this is his actual facial expression:

And when he won the Golden Globe, he ruffled feathers and turned heads by dropping the f-bomb (gasp) and calling award shows “this thing that is created to sell advertisements for the TV show.” He was all but forced off the stage by a swell of instrumental transition music, which meant they were telling him to please get yourself and your f-bombs off the stage already thank you. But while some have called his speeches both rude and crude, others have called them empowering, passionate, and moving.

I fall in the latter camp. Especially after watching his Oscars speech. Was it rambling and politicizing? Sure. He did attack dairy farming and humankind’s plundering the natural world. Some, like the Spectator’s Tom Slater, mocked him for “flaunting his eco-awareness in increasingly absurd ways” and calling his speech “more than anything unintentionally comical, in a way Hollywood sermonising so often is.” But by brushing aside his speech for the “cows bit,” Slater misses the main point. More than anything, Phoenix’s speech was an emotional, honest, and impassioned plea for both justice and grace. If he was “Hollywood sermonising,” then he gave a sermon I, for one, needed to hear.

After encouraging the world to keep up “the fight against injustice … the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity,” his speech then turned into a personal confession of his own selfishness and cruelty, and an outcry for grace in light of that harsh realization. Decrying cancel culture and championing our “commonality” as humans, he used his speech to unite. As he ended his speech with a heart-wrenching quote from his late brother River Phoenix, my friend turned to me and asked, “Did Joaquin Phoenix just share the Gospel?” And I think he may have. Funny enough, the first word of his speech, after awkwardly telling people to “stop” clapping for him, is “God.” Phoenix closed with these touching and unabashedly honest words:

Now, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.

When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.’

Featured image (c) Ellejart.

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2 responses to “Run to the Rescue with Love”

  1. Trevor Giuliani says:

    Agreed! Love his display of a real person with a heart who’s not perfect, who’s in the spotlight and sees through the trappings of celebrity and says something earnest about it. The animal rights piece is really important because it shows how we treat ourselves, all linked through Creation, we destroy and plunder and act in horribly cruel ways all because use we think we’re separate and better than animals and the other natural kingdoms. It’s evident that we are entirely wrong in that assumption and to extend redemption to our industries and relationships with other species is the Gospel’s natural response to environmental and species degradation.

  2. Jake Brown says:

    I was watching the Oscars with friends from work in San Francisco. As soon as he finished the speech I almost teared up and thought “Mockingbird is going to write an article on this”! Thanks for proving my prediction to be true!

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