The scandal is in the eye of the beholder. Scandal is the perception we have of what is considered scandalous. It is mass society that imposes what is licit and what is not licit (with due measures, of course), and it is always the mass that judges, judging us until proven otherwise. Yet, underneath, there is more. Just look for it, locate it, shifting the common thought into a finally divergent thought. A thought that reveals and unmasks reality. Because reality can never be sweetened. After all, the comfortable panacea is now frail, in crisis. The ghosts have escaped from the closet, so you have to defend yourself. You have to fight to resist, and you have to fall to fly again. Shining like crazy Jocelyn shines Lily-Rose Depp. Pop-star queen of the universe shattered to smithereens. Jocelyn, fragile as a twig, and sexy as a Vogue cover. All this to say: like any great show, The Idolco-created by Sam Levinson, together with Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and Reza Fahim (from 5 June exclusively on Sky and streaming only on NOW), was accompanied by a barrage of chatter for its brutal (?) way of staging depression, sexuality, physicality.
Now that we’ve seen the serieand referring to the first two episodes (there are six) presented at Cannes 2023we can write it: The Idol it could be quite the opposite of what one could even imagine (in short, if you are looking for the real itchy scandal just watch an afternoon TV program). Yes, there is sex. Yes, there is trouble. Yes, there is the questionable. But behind all the patina, as happened with that serial masterpiece called Euphoria, The Idol is yet another proof that the world of entertainment is shouting what now seems obvious, and that has kept alive a hundred years of cinema, music and literature: the American dream is slowly, inexorably dying. The American dream, which has formed generations of social thinkers, politicians and cultural inspirations, handing down the suggestive idea to the entire spongy West (an ideological colonization? Could it be), is turning into something different, something dangerous. Just like what happened in the late sixties.
The scandal is just a pretext
Because history is cyclical, especially the American one. Everything passes, everything comes back. Vietnam, the pacifist movements, the political scandals, the energy crisis. The demonic obsessions of Charles Manson, and of his Manson Family, ready to suck in desperate and derelict souls. Marginalized by a society designed for profit. As often happens, art – in this case a television series – anticipates and underlines today’s tone, without sparing itself, and why exaggerating with the visual and narrative dosages. So, here we are in front of the irresistible Jocelyn. Jocelyn is beautiful. Beautiful. But she is depressed, in crisis. She defends herself as best she can, while all around her an uproar breaks out over a photo of her that has gone viral. An intimate photo, yet another case of revenge porn. But Jocelyn is not there, she continues to dance. To try, and try again. However, Jocelyn may have something broken.
Behind a physicality that bites, and on which Levinson’s direction lingers, the heart turns on and off, the feet hurt, squeezed in a pair of shoes with improbable heels. Shameful bruises, unacceptable for the record label (emblematic is the figure of Jane Adams, who plays the label manager). After all, the public wants the monster on stage, but the monster is wounded, torn apart by depression and psychic discomfort. “The Show Must Go On”, whatever it takes. An uneasiness that Jocelyn’s world would even like to sexualize, aberration of every legitimate border, and creating the starting point for a narrative reflection focused on the definitive destruction of the human being, using the scandal as a pretext, as an excuse.
Cannes 2023: The Idol series with stars Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd arrives at the festival
The body as a scenic function
Of course, so far ours is a discussion that could be marginal, being able to write the review only of the first two episodes. Nonetheless, the incipit is more cerebral than sensual (least of all pornographic, as some have mistakenly predicted), more dry than baroque. Consequently, in The Idol, at the behest of his narration, flesh and desire, irregularity and sweetness are confronted. A subdued, desperate sweetness. Because Jocelyn is desperate. Desperate enough to give in, letting Tedros embrace her (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfayeinteresting debut as an actor), a sort of self-help guru. A contemporary guru, with ambiguous, horrific ways. Coincidentally not far from the reverberations that hovered over Manson’s figure. Tedros, elegant and affable, perfumed and eclectic, brilliant and erotic. Yes, we said it: history is cyclical, and everything remains sedimented, dormant. As if he was waiting for the right moment to come back to resurrect from the darkness.
That darkness that the director exploits and amplifies, as if we were watching a seventies horror film, deconstructed. Shadows, reflections, noises. And the music, a real narrative track that quotes Prince, Madonna and David Bowie for inflections. And then the instrumental track, free and harmonious, almost restorative towards Jocelyn’s instability, which forces the pleasure and strains her talent. Essentially, The Idol stages this: the dawn of a complete destruction of global identity written by the (fake) liberal vision of the United States, which has placed and continues to place in the foreground the symbolic power of the body, and in particular of the female body . In this case, the body of a pop star who, as we can see, is the leitmotif of the series, right from the first shot: a close-up, and the expression that changes according to a convulsive photo shooting. First sexy, then detached, then enjoyable. For Levinson the body is matter to be moulded, pretext and context. Vision and scenic function. Aesthetics and ecstasy. Indeed, the brutal modernization of a dream that becomes a nightmare.
As written in our review, after watching the first two episodes of The Idol we can finally say it: the sexual and itchy pretext so far seems structured to be functional to Sam Levinson’s narrative idea. A pretext that focuses on the cultural deconstruction of the American dream, capable of generating and destroying its own idols.
Because we like it
- Lily Rose-Depp is brilliant.
- The direction, almost horror.
- The soundtrack.
- The context, and the narrative pretext.
- The shock seems to be designed to get attention only.