Words by Ellen Cregan
Illustration by Sarah Haris
The concern surrounding the media’s idolisation of thinness is by no means unwarranted. The supposed desirability of “bikini bridges” and “box gaps” mean that young people—teenage girls in particular—are willing to going to extreme lengths to embody these trends. But the backlash surrounding willowy limbs and flat stomachs also risks making thinness a freakish trait. Amid the fierce criticism of these unrealistic depictions of beauty, those who do possess thin bodies become offensive in their physicality, or are labelled as unhealthy. In this frame of mind, thin people become fair game for anonymous, public criticism. Female celebrities in particular bear the brunt of these criticisms, some even being put to blame for the obsession parts of our society have with extreme thinness.
One much-criticised female body is that of fashion “it girl” Alexa Chung. Chung is frequently idolised by sites that glorify extreme thinness and offer tips on how to become better at self-starvation. Yet while Chung is an icon for these internet communities, she also constantly receives online vitriol for her appearance. One Instagram commenter tells her she “looks like a skeleton”, and “should seek help”, while a few comments down a young girl states she strives to have Chung’s life and body. Chung has publicly stated numerous times that her high-stress lifestyle is the reason behind her thinness, and that at times she becomes worried by the state of her own body. She does not dole out diet tips, yet is still regarded by some as a villain, as if she is using her body to put body-conscious fans at great risk of developing a fixation with thinness.
The bodies of men in Hollywood do not receive the same treatment as those of women. This is exemplified by the actor Matthew McConaughey’s recent physical transformation. During the filming of Dallas Buyer’s Club, McConaughey underwent an alleged 20kg weight loss. The previously muscular and bronzed McConaughey transformed into a very gaunt and pale cowboy figure. He gave interviews about having to subsist on tiny amounts of food each day, and even stated that he began to lose his eyesight as his weight plummeted.
If we were to alter this situation, placing a female actor in McConaughey’s position, things would be very different. Criticism would be rife, and speculative headlines would adorn newsstands everywhere. McConaughey becomes a ‘serious actor’ because of his weight loss—Oscar material, willing to go above and beyond for his art. But a female in his position would become ‘scary skinny’, a recklessly negative role model and a danger to her own wellbeing. Alexa Chung’s thinness is on par with McConaughey’s at the time of his weight loss, yet she is treated like an ill person, or as a body-image bomb about to explode in the vulnerable minds of teenage girls. No one speculates that a male actor might be mentally ill when he changes his body for a role, yet questions arise for the young and female Chung. She has to justify her body to the masses while McConaughey receives veneration for his.
A comparison between the way Chung and McConaughey’s bodies have been received and critiqued by the media reflects a double standard present in the entertainment industry. It suggests that women’s bodies are inherently dangerous while men’s are their own business. Eating disorders are not exclusively a female issue—eating disorder diagnoses, poor body image and exercise addiction in males is on the rise. So why is it that these men, who have the same protruding collarbones and knobbly knees as women like Chung, do not come under media speculation?
This stigmatisation of female thinness is damaging. Nobody asks for their body to harm the self-esteem of others. We have to be careful that the opposing commentary of thin women’s bodies in the media does not persist in rendering thinness freakish. Male thinness too falls into this category. McConaughey’s transformed body, while representative of his serious acting skills, is still seen as something to gawk at. The number of interviews that have delved into his weight loss regime make this apparent. Thin bodies are both ideal and grotesque, an inspiration and a health risk, all at the same time, often depending on the wording of tabloid headlines. Whether we are thin or fat, male or female, our bodies are our own, and it is not fair for any individual or group to make another’s physicality a discussion point, or blame one body for the mental health issues of others.
Words by Declan Mulcahy
Well cinephiles, it’s that time of year again. The 86th Academy Awards are fast approaching us, this year carrying a wealth of strong competitors nominated across all categories. There have been a few surprising inclusions and shocking snubs—may we all take a moment to lament the measly two nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis—but after such a quality year in cinema every category is still jam-packed with cinematic gems waiting to earn their accolades. To help those hoping to win big themselves at their Oscar party betting pools, here’s a rundown on each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, and how they fare against the competition.
AMERICAN HUSTLE dir. David O. Russell
Called ‘Faux-sese’ by some for its obvious borrowing from Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre, this character-centric comedy still manages to hold its own as a the crime genre film. Based loosely on a true cooperative sting run by the FBI and an infamous con artist duo, the film has nabbed ten nominations in total, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and the rare sweep of all four acting nominations. Despite the film’s slightly unoriginal style, its tight plot and strong cast have made it a formidable contender for the Best Picture prize.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS dir. Paul Greengrass
Though fairly mediocre and at times exaggerative, this retelling of a 2009 pirate hijacking is redeemed by Tom Hanks’ levelheaded performance as the captain. But with both Hanks and Greengrass snubbed in their respective categories, Captain Phillips lacks the weight it would need to nab Best Picture. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi has a vague chance at Best Supporting Actor, but major awards will be hard to come by for this film.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
Based on a true story, this film follows the exploits of an emaciated Matthew McConaughey as an AIDS sufferer fighting the FDA as he distributes unapproved medication. Dallas Buyers Club has earned both McConaughey and Jared Leto—who plays his transgender business partner—their first Oscar nominations. Leto looks a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor with McConaughey holding a high chance for Best Actor.
GRAVITY dir. Alfonso Cuarón
One of this year’s most talked-about films, this space-set thriller has won over many with its innovative and immersive special effects. The dialogue may be weak and the plot predictable but the buzz around the visual spectacle has given Gravity a lot of momentum. Cuarón looks to be almost guaranteed the Best Director trophy and most of the technical awards, while Sandra Bullock holds a reasonable chance at Best Actress, despite her role consisting mainly of irritating and incessant breathing.
HER dir. Spike Jonze
A moustachioed Joaquin Phoenix stars in this futuristic, thought-provoking techno-romance about a man who falls in love with his sentient operating system. One of the more original and interesting films in this year’s nominee lineup, Her has earned five nominations, including for Arcade Fire’s beautifully tragic score and Jonze’s equally melancholy screenplay. Widespread critical acclaim makes these lesser awards a possibility, but the film is unlikely to impress the older members of the Academy enough for a Best Picture win.
NEBRASKA dir. Alexander Payne
Greyscale and gloomily humourous, this unconventional road movie has garnered a wealth of critical acclaim. While Payne has seen Oscar gold in the Adapted Screenplay category for his two previous films, the offbeat nature of Nebraska means it isn’t a likely contender for Best Picture. Veteran actor Bruce Dern, who plays a slightly senile old man determined to claim his dodgy sweepstakes win, has earned the first Best Actor nomination of his career, which would make for a heartwarming win.
PHILOMENA dir. Stephen Frears
Co-written by and starring the dry-witted Steve Coogan alongside Judi Dench who plays the eponymous sweet old Irish lady, this odd-couple comedy-drama has the pair travelling far and wide in search of Philomena’s lost son. The sadder parts of this movie are more effectively crafted than the comedy, although there are some chuckle-worthy moments among the less clever gags. Nominated for four awards, including Best Actress for Dench and Best Adapted Screenplay, Philomena is the least recognised film in this year’s Best Picture pool.
12 YEARS A SLAVE dir. Steve McQueen
McQueen’s first film to earn any Oscar nomination, this film is a powerful combination of high tension and heart-wrenching emotion. The Antebellum-set drama following a free man’s kidnapping into slavery has earned particular appraisal for its cast, scoring nominations in three of the four acting categories. Up for a total of nine awards including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years a Slave is the well-deserved favourite for the Best Picture gong.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET dir. Martin Scorsese
Based on the real-life escapades of crooked broker Jordan Belfort, this biopic is Scorsese at his best, sliding into the director’s canon without coming off as unoriginal. With his fourth Oscar nomination, Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely be overshadowed by more outstanding performances in the Best Actor category. Scorsese is a more likely victor, but all in all, The Wolf of Wall Street probably won’t be earning much Academy recognition.
Words by Michael Horn
Now, don’t think I’m some kind of Wedding Planner watching, Fool’s Gold digging Matthew McConaughey fan, just because in a moment of weakness I may have conceded to a pretty girl that How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days isn’t a totally worthless movie. No way.
But I saw Dallas Buyer’s Club last week, and I’m going to have to rethink that position. Canning the bland charm that he had built a career on, McConaughey instead plays a gaunt, sick, scared, lascivious man with a big fight in him. All of a sudden, he’s more Daniel Day-Lewis than Ryan Gosling.
Dallas Buyer’s Club, directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée, tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan electrician and rodeo cowboy diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. But, as Woodroof tells the doctor, “I got a news flash for all y’all: there ain’t nothin’ out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in thirty days”. In his quest not to be proven wrong on that point, Woodroof discovers a raft of unapproved HIV drugs available in Mexico. Before long, he’s operating a full-blown import racket—a “buyers club”—keeping himself and many others alive where doctors could not, and making a tidy profit at it.
McConaughey is a passionate degenerative revelation as Woodroof, but his supporting cast is at times less spectacular. Jennifer Garner, as Woodruff’s sympathetic but powerless doctor, looks like she thought this was a sequel to her last appearance with McConaughey, in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. McConaughey’s Woodroof crackles with the energy of a dying man burning to live, and all she can do in response is smile coyly and giggle. Dennis O’Hare is similarly one-dimensional as the cold, money-minded hospital chief. Jared Leto, on the other hand, gives as good as he gets playing Rayon, a transexual who becomes Woodroof’s business partner and unlikely friend. Leto and McConaughey, working with a strong script, are vivid enough together to make any weaknesses of the film seem like quibbles.
Ron Woodroof was a real person; he told his story to screenwriter Craig Borten in 1992, a month before he died. After more than twenty years, his story has arrived on screen with the vitality and power to make it more than worth the wait. I never thought I’d say this, but give McConaughey the Oscar.