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‘Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage’

| Thursday, February 25, 2016

Leo webSusan Zhu

Colder. Longer. Higher. Lower. Faster. Slower. Grosser. Farther. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in “The Revenant” is one of “–ers.” What DiCaprio endured during the shoot for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s film has become the stuff of legend: “I heard Leo ate raw bison liver!” “I heard he almost lost his fingers to frostbite!” “Did you know he ACTUALLY slept inside that horse carcass?” In “The Revenant,” Leo attempts to top the decadent heights of his last performance/failed Oscar attempt — as Jordan Belfort, emperor of excess, in “The Wolf of Wall Street” — with an excess of exertion. More, more, more!

And, so perfectly has that conceit been captured in the new Internet flash game, “Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage.” Created by Line Animation, “Rampage” lets players guide an eight-bit Leo through an obstacle course of a red carpet — Leo must collect SAG Awards, outrun Matt Damon and dodge paparazzi all in pursuit of the Oscar that has eluded him throughout his entire career.

Pressing the G and H keys in rapid succession brings Leo to a sprint, though the game demands more than fine dexterity; players need visual acuity and quick reflexes to spot obstacles then successfully hurdle them by pressing the space bar. Focusing on that little animated Oscar statuette is stressful, and after playing the game for just five minutes my jaw was clenched and my brow furrowed — just like Leo throughout the entirety of “The Revenant.”

In provoking that response in its players, “Rampage,” a silly meme-turned-video game, actually becomes a necessary meditation on Hollywood. A quick look at the recent Oscar winning performances is a troubling illustration of how sadistic the 6,000 voting members of the academy can be: in 2014 Matthew McConaughey’s exploration of extreme weight loss in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” bested Leo’s exuberant turn as Belfort, and Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of ALS survivor Stephen Hawking, snatched Oscar gold from the sublime Michael Keaton. The message is clear: physical pain — not emotional or psychological pain — is what wins awards.

But in times of discomfort, anyone can clench their jaw and furrow their brow — just like I did when playing “Rampage” — so are Leo’s facial expressions in “The Revenant” really that impressive? Sure, Leo looks like he’s suffering for two-and-a-half hours; but bare in mind, he actually is suffering. There’s no creation in the performance; it’s all reacting and no acting.

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz explores this topic in a recent essay titled “Why Leo Winning an Oscar for ‘The Revenant’ Would be Bad for Acting.” For Zoller Seitz, Leo winning “would only ratify the tendency to see acting greatness in terms of transformation and misery.” It’s hard to look at McConaughey’s weight loss and Redmayne’s physical contortions and not see installments in this trend that may culminate with Leo’s victory on Sunday. As Zoller Seitz claims, “[these performances] are mainly about proving one’s devotion to the art of acting by suffering before or during production.” Indeed, who else among this year’s acting nominees can claim to have weathered icy waters or eaten uncooked bison?

But the trouble with Leo’s performance in “The Revenant” is that on the two occasions he eats uncooked meat he is just feet away from a fire. Even more than McConaughey or Redmayne, Leo seems to suffer for the sake of suffering. Leo has become a parody of the artist who suffers for his craft.

Ultimately, I’m torn. Leo didn’t give the year’s best performance — the Oscar belongs to Matt Damon for his work in “The Martian.” Yet I almost want him to win. As my Media Industries professor, Dr. Christine Becker, noted: Leo may never do another comedy until he wins the coveted Oscar. The thought of never seeing Leo flex his comedic muscles — like the icy waters Leo endured shooting “The Revenant,” or like “The Revenant” for that matter — is enough to make you shatter your own teeth.

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