(ENG 282 International Films Studies Student Response)
Sex, Drugs, and Identity Crisis: a response to Performance
By Nathan Cunningham
Performance is what your parents didn’t want you to see. It has every element that struck fear in the hearts of the parents of the late 1960’s. There was brutal violence, blatant drug use, open and uninhibited sexuality, forward thinking literature, and just a hint of gender confusion. Worst of all was the addition of counter culture icon Mick Jagger. Jagger plays a musician who has lost the ability to captivate crowds and maintain his popularity. The surprising thing about this film is that Jagger doesn’t make it into the movie until almost halfway though. This was an excellent choice to keep Jagger from really dominating the narrative. The main character of the film is a man named Chas. Chas is a better choice for the main role because he represents the typical upstanding, tough guy. The evolution of Chas’ character is one of the most compelling aspects of this film.
In the beginning of the film Chas is an adult bully. He takes pleasure in torturing others at every turn. If he is not berating his fellow employees about deceased loved ones, he is shaving a man’s head as a form or humiliation. Chas takes sadistic pleasure in what he does. Chas’ bloodlust comes to a terrible climax when he kills a man in cold blood. This forces Chas to go into hiding. Chas ends up staying with a man named Turner (Mick Jagger) and his female companionship. His new roommates change Chaz’s life forever.
The character of Chas is great because he represents the “square” crowd. Even though he was a criminal he was somebody the general population could somewhat identify with. Chas commits terrible acts, and seems to enjoy them. What is made clear though, is that Chas doesn’t believe is what he is doing. When Chas commits a brutal act, he is trying to show everyone who he is a loyal soldier. When in reality he is trying to convince himself. Every act of violence is and over-compensation. Many Americans and other people living in industrialized countries can identify with trading your own identity for what people think you are or should be. When Chas commits murder, he completely crosses the line into madness. Chas has become what he thinks his peers and his boss want him to be. Many people trade their individuality for the chance to be accepted by their peers. It is very interesting that this particular film deals with the issue of peer-pressure. In the late 60’s and 70’s the perception was (and still is) that peer-pressure would lead to drug use and premature sexual activity. Both sides, accepted society and the counter-culture, want you to be like them. This validates their lifestyle. So in an attempt to “fit in” we put on our performance. When Chas goes to live with Turner, he finds another man whose need to perform also drove him to the brink of madness.
Turner is a musician who has lost his ability to perform. He lost that dangerous and wonderful demon that drove him to greatness. Turner identifies with Chas because he too has been pushed to his breaking point by living a life on stage. Turner looks to self-medication to try and make his life better. He turns to the comforts of women and psychedelic drugs to escape the life he had once and can’t seem to recapture. Turner and Chaz explore each other’s mind with the help of hallucinogenic mushrooms. They share each other’s feeling and form a bond. During their “trip” Chas changes his look. He goes from clean cut blonde hair, to a large mop-top that sits wildly on top of his head. The new look represents a change in Chas’ life. He is becoming Turner, which is foreshadowing for the end of the film.
This movie is about the counter-culture, and how it attempted to save the world. The people of this movement believed they could convince a generation to embrace individuality. It took the ultimate sacrifice to save Chas. Turner gave up himself for Chas so that Chas could live his own life. This was not his only motive. Turner did it to find his demon. If Turner was going to live, he would have his means to uncover the madness he longed for. If he was going to be killed, he had done it to give a good man a chance.