From Borderline in 1980 to Gravity in 2013, and who knows what more is still to come, Ed Harris has been taking on an assortment of vague character names that are problematic to isolate, memorize and pin down – either that or he’s been simply choosing to play the part of Ed Harris every time, with no exception. It’s hard to say what came first, the chicken or the egg, for putting Jackson Pollock aside, there is very little to remember his heroes and villains by, apart from the fact that they were all Ed Harris.
When I was doing my Masters in Screenwriting, a lecturer once asked each one of us in class to list all the film genres we could think of. One of my fellow students included the genre “Lynch” on his list, and as a result, we spent the rest of the seminar debating whether the work of David Lynch falls into any of the already established movie categories, or whether this filmmaker is indeed his very own special genre. We eventually concluded the latter.
In a similar way, I often find myself wondering what it is that makes Ed Harris’ versatile character choices – from Richard Brown in The Hours and Christof in The Truman Show, to Ed Dubois in Pain & Gain and Wayne Tarrance in The Firm – so similar after all. There is no doubt that the furious mobster in A History of Violence is poles apart from revolutionary artist Jackson Pollock, and there are more than a few minor differences to be found between self-appointed president of Nicaragua (Walker) and space people John Glenn (The Right Stuff) and Gene Kranz (Apollo 13), but in the end, isn’t it there more relating than separating these seemingly random people?
Read at Unsung Films: Walker.
In the end, isn’t Ed Harris more of a character than any of his characters could ever be? Could the people he portrays be strong enough as to lend Harris shape and sound? Or does this actor pretty much summon them into his very own whole, making them mere ingredients, features or, at best, distinct characteristics of the master-key Ed-Harris formula? In short, is General Francis X. Hummel (The Rock) portrayed by Ed Harris, or the other way around?
From where I stand, “Lynch” is a film genre and “Harris” a movie character in his own right; a screen persona instead of a real person; a necessary addition to any story that wants to effectively tell itself; a skeleton key role – and it doesn’t seem to be long until someone is cast to play Ed Harris. The day is coming, for his presence seems to be required for a film to be complete.
Plus, it’s interesting to observe how subtly Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity hint at it. Parcher is merely an illusion, and Mission Control a dark, distant voice. They’re phantoms – most likely, imaginary. They’re people of no record, heroes and villains of our heads; they’re allies and phobias – invisible and impossible to outline. Nobody else could have taken on these roles, for what Parcher is to John Nash, and Mission Control to Ryan Stone, Ed Harris is to the rest of us. His 90-title resume transcends traditional acting choices; he has evolved into an essential movie character – there now must be a protagonist, an antagonist and an Ed Harris.
Failure is not an option:
What the hell is wrong with you, man?: