The Trotsky: A Claim to Community

By Khan, Amir | CineAction, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Trotsky: A Claim to Community


Khan, Amir, CineAction


A distinction between an earlier and later Charles Taylor might be drawn between Charles Taylor the political activist versus Charles Taylor the intellectual. (1) Certainly the nature of the writing going on in a political tract like The Pattern of Politics (1970) (2) is at removes from intellectual forays into the malaise of modernity or the crisis of the self and identify. I won't attempt to square what an earlier Taylor says with a later Taylor. But Taylor's politics were local enough in the 1960s to make a book he wrote during that time pertinent 1o what I want to say about The Trotsky (2009), a film shot entirely in Montreal and engaged in its own way with "radical" Canadian politics. I am not applying a Taylorian reading to the film than suggesting that the film itself is a reading of this particular political text of Taylor's--that the movie ingests and thereby depicts some of us most pertinent lessons. Even if a later Taylor does not square with an earlier Taylor, what The Trotsky attempts is to make something like the politics of polarization matter once again, which is to say it attempts to reclaim some of the lessons put forward in The Pattern of Politics. One could also say this film attempts to reclaim the dialectic, in particular the notion that holds conflict (between clearly opposing viewpoints) as the lynchpin of social change. How the film reinterprets the dialectic will be considered here.

The premise of the film that a young Montreal teenager, Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel), believes himself to be the living embodiment of Leon Trotsky reincarnated suggests it is not beyond the pale to think about things like having another's soul occupy one's body, and, from there, to consider whether the ontology of film facilitates a discussion of reincarnation (another's soul trapped in a body eerily present to us) or rather, something like the reverse (a different body occupying another's soul). I raise these examples in consideration of the ontological differences between what Cavell calls, simply, the "actor" (stage actor) and the "performer" (screen actor). What we might nowadays call 1960s (Canadian) "counterculture," auteuring a film explicitly aimed at the youth of Canada. Whether or not Pierre Trudeau is a galvanizing figure for today's youth or not, those who are curious to know him are likely to know him through Colm Fiore. I don't mean that Fiore's persona trumps Trudeau's. Indeed, Fiore interprets Trudeau the way a stage actor interprets a character. But Fiore, in interpreting Trudeau, is interpreting a star, or, say, Trudeau's star-like quality and not a character, To play the role of Trudeau, he must get his persona to match Trudeau's. Others may come along, not with "different" interpretations, but something like "better" impersonations. (4) Yet for a generation at least (or for a generation of Canadian youth interested in 1960s Canadian counterculture now), simply by having appeared to us as Trudeau on screen, Fiore's persona will invoke or be caught up with Trudeau (though not vice versa). Fiore is, or has achieved, a reincarnation of Trudeau.

  The [stage] actor's role is his subject (or study, and there is no end
  to it. But the screen performer is essentially not an actor at all: he
  is the subject of study, and a study not his own. (That is what the
  content of a photograph is--its subject.) On a screen the study is
projected; on a stage the actor

  is the projector. An exemplary stage performance is one which, for a
  time, most fully creates a character. After Paul Scofield's
  performance in King Lear, we know who King Lear is, we have seen him
  in the flesh. An exemplary screen performance is one in which, at a
  time, a star is born. After The Maltese Falcon, we know a new star,
  only distantly a person. "Bogart" means "the figure created in a given
  set of films." His presence in those films is who he is, not merely in
  the sense in which a photograph of an event is that event; but in the
  sense that if those films did not exist, Bogart would not exist, the
mane "Bogart" would not mean what it does. … 

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