WEIRDLAND: Mad Men finale, The Elephant Man

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men finale, The Elephant Man

A lot of viewers find the allure of Mad Men to be the advertising conceit and the drinking, smoking, screwing around, the costumes/clothing, the midcentury furniture, etc. – and those are all wonderful elements of the series. But the backbone of the series has always been a far less sexy consideration of one man’s existential angst and his struggle with identity and purpose. Weiner’s intellectual curiosity and fascination with the deeper meaning of existence is precisely why Mad Men has so much gravitas; but his smartest move was also loving all the exterior passions that make life interesting and fun. Weiner simultaneously presented the “end” as open-ended, which could have easily been canceled out by the appearance of wrapping up those very stories.

By that I mean that on one level the stories the Mad Men characters live go on, even though we have resolution and closure on another level. I thought that’s how Weiner would end it, but of course had no idea how open he’d leave it. As an example, we are left to assume that Don goes back to New York, back to McCann-Erickson, and regains his old job and the Coca-Cola account, plus delivers a TV ad for the ages. Don is running from home, from all the broken relationships and the changes, the life not led, the dead-end decisions – even the empty victories of money and success. There’s no happiness, no fulfillment, in any of it – just more “is that all there is?” emptiness. In California, at the end of the earth, he’s lost and crushed. “I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name and made nothing of it,” he tells Peggy, the albatross still weighing him down after all these years. He hangs up soon after, and collapses from the weight of it all.

Don, almost comatose, is led back in to a group therapy session and hears another man describe his own inability to be loved or acknowledged. (I liked how Weiner didn’t have Don say any of this – that Don heard it and related to it on same level for himself.) The man said his wife and kids don’t really notice that he’s present or alive. “They should love me. Maybe they do. But I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it. People aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize, they’re trying. And you don’t even know what it is.”

Jon Hamm did a superb job, as he always does, portraying Don’s implosion prior to that turn of events. I bought into the creation of that final half hour or so knowing that it had to be truncated to tell it within the episode. But that’s also where the open-ended storytelling device Weiner employed was useful – we know that Don was meditating on the cliffs above the ocean when the idea came to him for the ad campaign, but we also understand that he didn’t just get up and run off the lawn. He took what he experienced at the communal retreat/Esalen as a transformative life experience and employed it, we are to assume, as a changed man back at his job.

Lastly, there was so much to love in storylines that had the most closure. Peggy’s touching and comic realization that Stan loves her and she also loves him. Pete and Trudy jetting off to their new life together. Roger, embracing his age and laughing with his new wife, Marie. Joan, dubbing her new company “Holloway-Harris” and fulfilling her need to make something herself, even if it meant losing a man in the process (and we’re able to imagine that if it’s necessary for her to be together with someone, that someone will come along). We get a sense of the optimistic in those relationships and scenes. Even Betty’s elegiac last scene, defiantly smoking and going out on her terms, was something to behold. Source:

Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper has revealed he has to hang upside down on an inversion table to straighten his back after playing Joseph Merrick on stage in The Elephant Man. Cooper plays the physically deformed Merrick by contorting his body rather than using prosthetics. He told BBC Radio 4's Front Row that twisting his features had left one side of his face bigger than the other."Right now my face twitches sometimes," he said.

The play is transferring to London after a successful run in New York, and Cooper said that having experienced back pain during the New York shows, he had brought his table with him. "It's all about illusion," he said of the play, written by Bernard Pomerance in 1977. "The physical challenge is having to twist body and hold it for two hours. It's brutal, we did 120 performances in New York and in the last two weeks of the play I started to feel it in my back and my mouth and my face, all the muscles got very strong."

"This side is bigger, I don't know what's going to happen [in London]. I do worry a little bit, I'm not going to lie," he laughed. The story of John Merrick also inspired David Lynch's Bafta-winning 1980 film, which starred John Hurt. "There was something about the way he lived his life, the curiosity, the levity he had. Given all of his physical afflictions, it was mesmerising to me in a cinematic form, in a physical form, and it made me think 'I want to tell stories like this,' " he said. US critics have raved about Cooper's performance as Merrick, following on from his three Oscar nominations for American Sniper (2014), American Hustle (2013) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Source:

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