“Well, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I haven’t been a rogue most of my life.”
The professor had as view various classic films spanning the twentieth century. I was thrilled that we could watch movies in class, much more, great movies like ‘Easy Rider,’ starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. Great work by the director and actors, but Nicholson took the prize. He portrayed his character as an outsider who seemed out of sorts with the time and culture he lived in, yet remarkably secure in his own skin. Such has been a part of the legacy of legendary American actor, Jack Nicholson. His work across sixty decades are a tremendous tour de force for the American culture and the world itself.
I honor Mr. Nicholson today in this essay for his contribution to our culture and collective sense of self. To those who have appreciated his work, he holds a place within us that can be easily reached. Mr. Nicholson did not go into the theater of war and perform heroic rescue operations, nor has he served political office and attained great victories. No he has not. But Jack has done something that puts him in his own echelon. He has achieved greatness on his own terms and given something to America that is unique and will stand the test of time. Jack Nicholson has given all of himself to us in word and action through film. He has inspired, frightened, made us laugh, reflect, imagine and most importantly, created an ethereal mindset space that is possible for us to inhabit. Namely, that we can be who we want to be and that we shouldn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks about it. Jack bucked the system with a smile and a grin and gave it additional meaning.
Be it in ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ where his character rejects the upper class socio-economic upbringing he was raised in, the original ‘Batman’ in which he cemented himself as the best Joker ever, or in his turnaround comedic films, ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ and his funniest, ‘As Good As it Gets,’ Jack’s penchant to remake himself and move with the times is a marker of his dexterity to stay relevant allowing him to continue to entertain new generations of audiences spanning more than half a century.
It is obvious that a part of his real persona protrudes throughout all of his films. Jack has known how to enter each character and make it his own, creating a hybrid that always has a portion of who he is in each of them. As he has gotten older, especially in the last decade and a half, his turn towards more comedy has brought increasing balance to his library of film work. Starring in ‘The Bucket List,’ across another great one, Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson’s character plays a billionaire who is faced with mortality and lands in a hospital. Mr. Freeman’s character, a car mechanic, forms a friendship bond that assuages Nicholson’s character with humility and perspective the two ‘jump ship’ from the confines of the hospital to finish life on their own terms by creating a ‘bucket list’ of experiences they wish to have before the end of their human lives.
Beyond the story line, is the meeting of these two working minds. That of Freeman and Nicholson’s. Mr. Morgan Freeman is an African-American and Jack Nicholson is caucasian. If we study the swath of film work in America, we will be hard-pressed to find movies where black and white actors share equal time on the same film, playing roles opposite each other. Far from how much money the film garnered, the action of making this film in a time in the United States when racial tensions have reignited sporadically is like a kind of cultural balm for the land. It is in such ways that the actors help shape and give service to the needs of the national community. It is in such ways that Jack Nicholson has helped lead our collective culture by answering the call for social, economic and racial equality in America.
Our lives are the palettes from which art derives its source. Likewise, art can move us from the inside out to think differently and make new choices. Jack Nicholson is no deity, but his work has been an artistic contribution which has been enjoyed by millions.
Thank you and best to you Mr. Nicholson.