THE INDIAN RUNNER: Premiered September 20, 1991
Originally published September 20, 2014.
I was 21 when Sean Penn released The Indian Runner, his first film as writer and director. I had been a Sean Penn fan before that, but watching The Indian Runner cemented my fondness for the man's work. It was clear upon the first viewing that Penn and I shared many of the same influences and tastes. The film was based on Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman", off his album Nebraska, which was - at that time - my favorite Springsteen album. The visual style was reminiscent of great 70s directors I was obsessing over at the time: John Cassavetes and Hal Ashby. The theme of the song was reminiscent of Austin and Lee in Sam Shepard's True West, a play I had read at least a dozen times, by that point. One of my favorite authors, Harry Crews, made a cameo. The cast was loaded with many actors I loved, all giving some of the greatest performances of their careers. More than anything, I was drawn to Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of wayward younger bother Frankie, who half-heartedly struggled to keep a lid on the boiling cauldron of toxic violence within his soul. Frankie had the kind of self-loathing typical to young men; it lashed out at the world regularly, and any attempts to soothe it were met with violence and humiliation. At 21, I understood that particular self-loathing. But as the years went on, my view of the world changed. Slowly, that self-hatred turned itself around. Slowly, "the world" stopped being the problem, and any lashing out I did was actually "lashing in" - a long, protracted soul-flagellation for not being able to understand the world better. Self-directed anger for never seeming to fit in. For not being good enough for anyone. For never finding a consistent way to stay happy or satisfied with myself. By the time I reached forty, the world was a perfect place which operated by a logical set of rules that everyone seemed to understand intuitively. It was only marred by me. And my inability to understand it. And the many failings that I brought to it.