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|Screening Room Mar/Apr - Page 3|
More than 30 years since he left office, Nixon remains a man we love to loathe. For a quarter-century, he dominated American politics by keeping the nation on edge over commies in the bushes. But what made him tick? and how did he maintain his influence for so long? He's now been portrayed in two celebrated movies by actors best known as, respectively, a cannibal and a vampire: Anthony (Hannibal Lecter) Hopkins in the Oliver Stone version of Nixon and Frank Langella here, previously most acclaimed for his performance as Dracula on Broadway.
Sweating, self-loathing, and deeply embarrassed at living inside his heavy-shouldered, graceless body, Nixon remains the quintessential outsider: he represents the triumph through sheer force of will of someone growing up poor and socially awkward, with a childhood filled with setbacks and family tragedy. Beginning his political career as the country faced the uncertainties of the post-World War II world, he turned his profound sense of personal threat to his advantage by presenting himself as the nation's Great Protector against the Red Menace.
The central drama of Frost/Nixon focuses on whether Frost (played by Michael Sheen, who was Tony Blair in The Queen) can persuade the elusive, ever-rationalizing Nixon to confess to the crimes and dirty tricks that forced him from office. The metrosexual Frost is a perfect foil to Nixon. He's an attractive, glib man, with an English accent and Gucci loafers, who seems blithely self-assured. By contrast, Nixon reminds us of the alien wearing the human body in Men in Black. "Why," Nixon's indignation seems to whine, "should Ôthey' love this lightweight Frost instead of me?" Frost, who never questions whether he's lovable and always can have anyone he chooses in his bed, at his table, or on his show, is convinced that his charm and savvy can get Nixon to relax and confess. One rule of popularity is to assume that almost everyone wants to love you—unless you're Nixon.
Nixon played to America's cultural ignorance and xenophobia, using his paranoia as his guide for how to persuade us that anyone less distrustful of the world must be weak and na•ve. At the pinnacle of his power, he exemplified the paradox of the Ultimate Insider, inwardly tormented with the insecurity and desperation of the Perennial Outsider, forever wondering why nobody loved him. Frost/Nixon captures this troubled, brilliant, conflicted, deeply unpleasant man, and reawakens our fascination with how such an obvious loser could have achieved such success. Why do we loathe Nixon? Because he's paranoid, that's why.