Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen
Floundering - 1994

It's important to understand right up front that Floundering is a small budget film, and while it tries to promote its "big names", these actors only had cameo roles. So you get short little clips of Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, John Cusack, Ethan Hawke, Billy Bob Thornton, and others. This means the acting, like the dialogue, is a bit roller-coastery. Sometimes it really is awesome, but other times you wince at acting that just never would have made it on screen in any other regular film.

Still, you accept that for what it is. Not all movies are made by the big houses, nor should they be. When you watch the credits roll and see the entire cast singing a song together about peace and love, you realize what this really was. It was a gut reaction by many actors to the LA riots. It was a way for them to express their anger and outrage and confusion about everything that went on. For example, Viggo had starred in a movie a few years before this, and the next movie he did was one of my favorites - American Yakuza. And yet in this film he has maybe 3 lines, all of them mumbled. He's the homeless man that the lead character gives his apartment away to in the last 30 seconds of the movie. You bet Viggo didn't do this movie for that screentime or paycheck. He did it - like many of the other actors - as a way to get this message out there.

The premise is pretty simple. A confused 30-something guy is meandering his way through life. He doesn't have a job, he owes back taxes. He has pet goldfish which he feeds to his pet predator fish. He's the "nice guy" who won't date the girl who is smart and likes him, but is in love with a girl who doesn't respect him and sleeps around. He keeps giving money to a drug addict and lets people walk on him. He becomes obsessed with the LA riots - why were all those people so upset? Why did the police "do nothing"? Why don't all the rich people just give up 90% of their income and "solve the problems"?

I can see why many people felt that the discussions were simplistic and stereotypical. Many if not most of the characters themselves here were stereotypical. The downtrodden poor woman supporting a child. The rich egomaniac who hates poor people. The police chief out solely for personal power.

It's easy to say "the movie should have had more depth, addressed the issues with more complexity." However, in life there are audiences of different levels. It's like the Matrix. A portion of viewers saw that and said "That's basic philosophy, about how you sense your world. I knew about that." Then another big portion of the viewers saw that and said "WOAH! That's a cool idea, I never heard about that before!" That second portion wouldn't have gone to see an in depth, complex movie about the topic. They would see this simple version involving fun sci-fi themes. So you start somewhere, to get the discussion going. Then people can understand the more complex versions.

Even understanding that dynamic, I'm not sure I liked the way the movie ended. The lead guy finally realizes that he should do something, get his life into gear, and that a woman he's met is actually right for him. She's off in Vegas for the weekend. He's just gotten a block of money from an old friend. So he portions part off to help his druggie friend in rehab. That's great. Then he spends the rest on *loaves of bread* to give out to people. Ever hear that story about "feed a man for a day"? There are soup kitchens already feeding people. There was a whole storyline about a recycling woman who could have her own business - and also complaints about rich people not funding inner city business. Why didn't *he* set up this money as a micro-loan program? That's be pretty easy, and it is *hugely* helpful in many poor areas, to help small businesses get the small but vital start-up funds they need. Or heck, a scholarship fund? Something other than the "throw bread out for a day" solution. Then he runs away to Vegas. Which again seems quite the opposite of what people should do. Why not end with him calling his lady love, asking her to come back to him, to LA? Heck, he abandons his only pet! It just left me with a "this is the moral?" feeling, after the movie had been relatively heavy-handed in its simplistic good-evil statements.

Still, it's worth a watch, if only to remind us just what the LA riots were like and how it affected many people in this area.

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo is told he can have the apartment.

Viggo Mortensen
His only face shot, while he's saying he bets the lead character is a crack-head.

Viggo Mortensen
During the credits the whole cast is jumping around, singing and dancing. Not Viggo. He stands still and holds a piece of paper (poetry?) at the camera, while he holds a child - perhaps his son.

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