Seminal: How Oscar Isaac’s Sensitive Performance as a Perplexed Libertarian Captured the Heart of the Internet


At Flavorwire, we often pay attention to the new, but we make sure to do so not at the expense of what’s come before it. In “Seminal,” a bi-weekly column, we examine earlier, under-acknowledged exemplars of dramatic mastery from revered actors’ careers — moments that should be described as, dare I say, seminal. This week, we’re focusing on Internet-heart-melter (like Y2K!) Oscar Isaac’s empathic portrait of Confused Libertarian Next to Poster, from Untitled Short Film.

Poe Dameron. Melt. Llewyn Davis. Melt. Intimidating tech bro who whips out dance moves to intimidate with that nummy tush. Melt, while also smartly acknowledging the character’s moral deficiency and the ontological dangers of haphazardly introducing A.I. to contemporary life. Confused Libertarian Next to Poster. MELT. Yes, of all of Oscar Isaac’s swoon-worthy roles, the most dizzyingly sexy was his solemn, humane portrait of the befuddled Ayn Rand fanboi who’s just seen his parallel universe doppelgänger in an inspirational poster encouraging people to “drive.”

The film this character appeared in may have been so short as to merely be a still image (perhaps an homage to Marker’s La Jetée?) that circulated the ‘net and was never officially distributed in theaters, but that was enough: with just one look, the world wide web fell in love with the character of the astonished laissez-faire capitalist. The lovebug had Twitter all aflutter:

“I’d put him in my Galt’s Gulch, if you know what I mean. #entrepreneursstrike #OscarIsaacArms,” tweeted one Ayn fan[d.]

In Untitled Short Film, Isaac plays a man whose history is entirely unknown: his politics, however, he wears on his sleeve. (Well, technically just to the right or left of either sleeve.) What we do know: the discombobulated objectivist is only just having his morning coffee, and it’s iced (because this is a silent film, the question of whether or not it’s cold brewed will remain a mystery, and the handmade question mark coffee cup paraphernalia is already piling up on Etsy). Really, it’s all guesswork, but still most of the Internet rightfully fell head over heels — and then never got helped up, because helping hands go against the tenets of Randian thought. Firm hands are not helping hands. The dumbfounded fiscal ultraconservative from Untitled Short Film knows this, which is why he clutches the controversial iced coffee instead of another human being, for one can suck iced coffee through a straw into oneself, and the problem with others is that one can’t without killing them.

What’s also clear is that this is the portrait of a man suddenly plunged into a political philosophical crisis: the flabbergasted ethical egoist is abruptly struck by a feeling of synchronicity with another being — the man in the poster — and it’s shaking him, and his ice coffee, to the core, and to the cup, respectively. Who, praytell, is this person quashing his notions of free will by insinuating a shared will? To his dawning horror, without even knowing he was doing it, the stupefied self-worshipper found himself imitating the exact motion of an other. The man in the inspirational poster holds a gun; meanwhile, Confused Libertarian Next to Poster makes a frighteningly realistic gun with his pointer finger and thumb. In the other hand, he clutches that iced coffee for dear life, for it’s the only thing safeguarding his individuality from collectivizing with that of the man in the inspirational poster.

And that’s just the plot. We’re really here to discuss Isaac’s performance. Because here’s the thing you didn’t guess: he also plays the man in the inspirational poster. Yes, here Isaac has seized the acting opportunity of a lifetime — playing two vastly flawed but beguiling men, one who’s found solace in the cult of inspiration, the other who’s found it in Ayn Rand’s cult of inflated self-importance. “His ability to universalize the experience of staunch individualist isolationism is a paradoxical marvel,” said someone.

Someone else said, “The way his manbag accents his pectoral from underneath the Ayn Rand shirt is bae.”

Donald Trump, formerly not a fan of the Latino actor, said, “I like the moral of the film” while guzzling a compensatory taco bowl live in front of a stadium audience.

And we haven’t even mentioned the box that’s nearly defying physics and just resting on Isaac’s arm. The verisimilitude Isaac imbues this element with is uncanny if you know they actually used a green-screen, and that the box was played by Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit.

When Isaac went on Inside the Actors’ Studio to discuss the explosive yet deeply subtle role[s], and James Lipton asked about the process, Isaac was able to provide revelatory insight into the character:

I put on the T-shirt and made my pointer finger go like this and my thumb go like this.

Which is to say it sounds like his approach was wholly effortless, or, in other words: