Once an acclaimed thespian, Simon Axler (Al Pacino) has fallen from grace — literally. After swan-diving into the orchestra pit in the middle of a performance, he slides into an intense depression, and quite possibly dementia, leading to a spell in a psychiatric facility. Upon his release he agrees to continue therapy and swears to give up acting. But Simon is always acting in the theatre of everyday life. It’s only when he finds himself in an unlikely affair with the younger Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), until now a lesbian, that Simon seems to be back in the moment. Or is he? (synopsis via First Showing)
What happens when who we are, when the very thing that has defined us and shaped our life, suddenly loses meaning or slips from our grasp, and we are left flailing in the wake of its sudden absence.
It is the nightmare that confronts Simon, once a respected actor of stage and screen who finds himself living every actor’s nightmare as Al Pacino, who plays the once-lauded thespian and now obscure depressive in The Humbling, explained to Nancy Tartaglione at Deadline Hollywood:
“We [Pacino and director Barry Levinson] all saw it very similarly and the good news here is that it’s our world. It’s remarkable when you’re on stage and you don’t have your lines and you don’t know what the next one is. It’s the actor’s recurring dream, but (Simon) is living it and sees it as a constant.”
Adapted from Phillip Roth’s novel of the same name, it is a tragicomedy that examines how one man reacts to the only world he knew, the only life that meant anything to him suddenly falling away from him, taken away by a sudden evaporation of the creative drive that made it possible in the first place:
“He’s lost his desire and I think that is a scary thing because he doesn’t realize why.”
A fling with a lesbian groupie, the daughter of a family friend, perhaps?
Or perhaps not as The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw reports from the Venice Film Festival, where The Humbling is being screened (it is also on the schedule at the Toronto International Film Festival):
“Simon fears his gift has deserted him; he bungles a pseudo-Hemingway suicide, chalks up 30 days in rehab and wearily retires from acting to his house in the country where he embarks on a miraculous affair with a younger woman, Pegeen (Greta Gerwig) who does a solid, if unexciting job with this thankless role. Pegeen is the daughter of a family friend; she has always had a crush on Simon and is willing to suspend her gay identity for this liaison; it brings him nothing but humiliation and discontent.”
But fear not if you think this all sounds too dour and depressing; tonal issues aside, Bradshaw has a great of praise for this “entertaining” film:
“… it is entertaining, and its star Al Pacino often finds some very funny, rangy comic riffs. His bleary, bewildered performance is engaging, though you can never quite clear how deliberate his absentness is, or if, like Christopher Walken, he has boiled down a style and manner that will always be there no matter what he is saying and doing.”
It certainly sounds like Pacino at his best, and one of those richly-rewarding films which dives headfirst into exploring the human condition with admirable honesty, humour and a good dose of the truth, happy to admit that no matter how much we might rage against the dying of the light, that its extinguishment, in part or completely, is all but inevitable and we must make accommodation with one of the less palatable realities of growing older.
Of course no one said we couldn’t laugh a little as it happens, something The Humbling also seems all too ready to do.
No international release dates have been confirmed at this time.