Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Jane Fonda received her first Oscar nomination for playing Gloria, a desperate, bitter woman taking part in a dance marathon in Sydney Pollack's movie, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I'm really perplexed. Who was the front-runner that year? Maggie was a real surprise winner, but who was expected to win? I guess it must have been between Bujold and Fonda, who really offended a lot of people by her political actions and beliefs. I guess she was probably second or third in the voting.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most depressing and devastating movies I have ever seen. It's truly among the best, but do not expect light entertainment from it. It really is a saddening work by Sydney Pollack (I really can't believe that he also made Tootsie, my favorite movie), who definitely should have won the Best Director Oscar for this one. That sinister, brutal derby scene is alone worthy of that win. The actors give brilliant performances, though I'm not sure if I would vote for the supporting nominees for a win. They were great though.

However, nowadays the most discussed performance of this movie is definitely the one given by the, talented, beautiful Jane Fonda (my favorite actress ever), who reached the stars with this one and became a major dramatic actress going on to win two Best Actress Oscars. I think her political commitment really helped this movie and her acting: I always felt that she deeply believed in the story of the movie and what it represents. I never saw her acting for the Oscar or awards. She did her best for sure, but I never felt that the scenes or her brilliance for that matter was too forced. However, the screenplay does not make it a star turn either. She's not shown in all of the scenes, in fact there's some time, when she completely disappears. And yet that's just something that did not bother me.

One of the biggest achievements of Jane Fonda in this movie is that she was able to show all the layers of this woman: on the outside, Gloria is sarcastic, rough, tough, wants to win, is acting grumpy with a miserable pregnant girl, but inside Gloria is just suffering from the burden of this life. Gloria becomes more and more depressed and Fonda lets us into Gloria's mind, tells us intimate things about her and yet lets her remain mysterious. Gloria never talks about personal things, except for her aunt, but everything she says (observe it, it's worth it) gives us a clue to the very unexpected ending.

The sarcastic remarks of Gloria are delivered flawlessly by Fonda. She's just always in control of her character, both technically and emotionally. Gloria is a very tough role I think as she's very unlikeable and yet she HAS TO make the audience feel sympathy for her. Fonda solved this with real ease. Although I never liked Gloria as a person, I was rooting for her and cared about her. I really became the "victim" of Fonda's acting tricks (if you hae to be a victim than being Jane's is not that bad). It's just wonderful.

Gloria's toughness is however gone instantly, when she's in danger and like everyone else there, she becomes a brutal animal whose only goal is to survive in the jungle. There are only instincts there and really no emotions and Jane really lived this very complicated mental state, when you are just not in control of your actions anymore. Just look at her face in the derby scenes: she is screaming for her life, really. It's a true cry for help.

However, after all Gloria is totally consumed by a wicked system. She loses everything and the scene when she finds out the truth about the whole contest is just amazingly handled by Jane. Those bitter laughs, but also the devastation in her eyes are things that you just cannot forget. It just gets worse and worse (I mean the mood, not her performance): after this, she has a real breakdown after her stocking is torn. That desperate cry was so weird and yet very believable reaction. I haven't seen so much devastation played on the screen and it's probably one of the most depressing scenes I've ever seen.

I don't want to give away the shocking ending to those who haven't seen the movie, but I can tell you that the last lines of hers really stay in your mind. Basically, that's the highlight of her performance, but it's so hard to talk about it without spoiling anything. It really lives up to the rest of her performance: it remains as brutal and devastating as the beginning.

After all, I can say that Jane Fonda gives a gritty, tough and incredible performance as Gloria, who's full of layers and secrets and Jane slowly, but firmly reveals the mind of this desperate woman. It's really no wonder that she became the #1 actress of the seventies after this one. Terrific job.
What do you think? Any predictions now? Also: vote in my new poll for the next year you want me to do!


Louis Morgan said...

I agree her performance is very good. I did not care for the film all that much. Not because it is depressing, after all I think Midnight Cowboy from the same year is a great film, but I felt its symbolism and metaphors were rather forced. I did like it for about the first hour but than the symbolism really started to kick in, and it just became repetitive for me. I know that was partially the point, but I did not think the repetition ended up making a compelling film.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you put it perfectly.

And I agree with Louis about the film as a whole -- not a big fan of it.

Anonymous said...

Truly one of the absolute best performances I have ever seen. Great review.

dinasztie said...

I think the movie was just as great as Fonda. It was a very intense experience for me.

Fritz said...

You probably know that I am not a Fonda-fan but I really appreciate her work here. And I love the movie in general (how did it not get nominated for Best Picture???)

joe burns said...

I agree here, but I felt that her character was a tad underdeveloped, but that was the script's fault.

A really good movie though...