Casting Binx Bolling

In the Readings section of the December 2014 issue of Harper’s Magazine there’s an excerpt from Patton Oswalt’s latest book Silver Screen Fiend in which the comedian imagines “a month’s worth of titles to play in a netherworld movie palace.”

Here’s one entry from that book, in part:

The Moviegoer (1978, starring John Cazale).

In The Moviegoer Cazale’s searching, knowing eyes blink from too much time spent staring at a flickering screen, as he finally realizes that what he’s searching for lies in the real world, outside of his books and films.

Another entry has Terrence Malick adapting Blood Meridian, in 1988, into a film starring Gene Hackman, Barry Brown, and Marlon Brando (“The Comanche-attack sequence is both beautiful and nearly unwatchable…[t]he meteor showers that open and close the film were real.”) It’s the sort of funny little comedic divergence I have difficulty resisting. A serious reply might fantasize Malick making a filmed version of The Moviegoer instead.

It is said that Malick wrote a screen adaption of the Walker Percy novel years ago, but of course he never made the film. Maybe he got stuck on who might play Binx Bolling, the 30ish New Orleans stockbroker who is at the center of the story, stuck in a malaise and searching? John Cazale wouldn’t have worked, I think – blinking joke aside – as great as his five screen performances are (The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter). Cazale died in 1978 – the year of Oswalt’s imaginary Moviegoer.

He zeroes in on Cazale’s eyes in his humorous entry, and rightly so. They’re the honest eyes of open, honest characters. But the emotions Cazale evokes in those film roles are almost exclusively external, or somehow he subtly conveys for the audience the frailties of a person who feels everything too acutely. In any event, Cazale’s expressed emotions (verbal, physical, and otherwise) are inconsistent with the hidden and cynical disposition that embodies Binx Bolling, I think. Cazale also didn’t look the part. So there’s that, too.

In contrast Brad Pitt (ca. 1992-2003) would’ve been an excellent choice. And not just for Pitt’s physical appearance. Today a filmmaker could probably get away with a Binx who’s pushing 40 or 45 years of age. Pitt through the mid-2000s would have been the limit though, I think. A director would want to avoid the Pitt who appeared in Burn After Reading (2008), for example, in which he was clearly (and painfully) too old for the part he played. But if you’ve seen the Pitt of Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) – as well as many other fine performances – it is also obvious that he would have been great in the Binx Bolling role, at one point in time.

Here’s a listicle for this bloggicle – other suggestions to play Binx (with the appropriate year):

    William Hurt (1989)
    John Malkovich (1984)
    Paul Newman (1964)
    Christian Bale (2008)
    Jude Law (1997)
    Johnny Depp (1995)
    Alec Baldwin (1993)

Who else?