Is it bizarre that before 2007 I didn’t even really know and or care who Tilda Swinton is? I mean, seriously; until ‘Michael Clayton’ I hadn’t seen her in anything noteworthy (I barely remember her in ‘Adaptation’ and I have no recollection of her at all in ‘Vanilla Sky’). Once seeing ‘Michael Clayton’, and witnessing her justly deserved Oscar win, I have become kind of obsessed with her. She’s quickly rising in my eyes as one of the (if not THE) greatest actress of her generation.
I’m not really exaggerating here.
Anyways; I had just finished watching ‘I Am Love’ for a second time (I’m still not in love with it entirely) and I couldn’t help but think to myself that Tilda Swinton is like the definition of ‘Actress of the Aughts’ and so I decided to dissect the reasons I love her so much.
So, in keeping with my theme…
Year One: Michael Clayton
Yes, the birth of Swinton’s mass appeal and collective recognition. With just a few small scenes and endless heaps of character development (you feel like you know so much about this woman who is barely in the film) Swinton was able to create a super-villain while maintaining a level of understated sympathies. Her character is malicious and deceitful and greedy and yet she is human to the bone. She is uncomfortable and nervous and unsure of her own measures. You feel her skin crawling all over your own as she contemplates her next move with an air of recklessness. When she collapses, her body just a blur behind the face of George Clooney, your eyes are drawn to her because you feel her heart hit her gut.
Honestly, she was brilliant.
Year Two: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
For a film that is, as a whole, rather void of any emotional relevance (the film is so numb it’s pathetic), there is a small segment in the films center that bleeds with so much emotional warmth it is almost as if it were derived from another film entirely. A small affair, lightly elaborated on, between Benjamin Button and a married woman at a creaky old hotel is the films sole highlight. What Swinton brings to this character is simply beautiful. She is so human, so organic. You can feel the loneliness in her soul, deeply entrenched in the contours of her face. You can see her trying to find a future in anything she can get a hold of. You can feel her desperation, despite the mask she uses to cover over her own fears. It’s a stunningly effective performance, cutting the ‘cool’ exterior of the film with the sharpness of her skill.
Year Three: Julia
One of the most insanely engaging and ravishingly fearless performances of the past decade, Swinton bares all her teeth (and then some) and the self centered alcoholic Julia. Every word out of her mouth is a lie, or at least a manipulated truth used with the sole purpose of getting what she wants; which is money and booze. She is a reckless and savagely destructive person, unlikable to the letter, and Swinton is not afraid to exploit that. I was not a fan of the clichéd ending with which the film was saddled (why give Julia a character arc when it was so unnecessary?) but I respect Swinton for finding a way to make it believable. She goes for it with so much gusto and reaches in ways that many actresses would be afraid to go.
Year Four: I Am Love
Like I mentioned, I am not totally in love with ‘I Am Love’, but Swinton’s performance is simply divine. The film is so vibrant and loud (visually) and so Swinton layers her performance with such subtlety that it helps elevate the progression of her character. You can sense restraint in her eyes, two orbs that portray the inner workings of a woman repressed by her own past and her eventual future. When she gives herself over to carnal abandon, you can see this lustful passion, not for a man but for a part of herself that she hasn’t known for so long. She forgot about herself years ago, and this doomed affair has given her a glimpse into her own soul. When she finally confronts the consequences of her decisions, you can see the torture in her face, the complete acceptance of her ‘truth’ and then that frantic decision to hold onto her newfound identity. I hate the soap opera ending, but the way Swinton plays her cards is effortless and increasingly heart wrenching.
Year Five: We Need to Talk about Kevin