Hollywood warms to Transformation

Steven Spielberg and DiCaprio are about to release a film called Catch Me If You Can, a treatment of a con man who works his con by transforming himself into a succession of characters.

Transformation (the book on this site) argues that Hollywood shows more and more interest in transformational themes, especially when it takes the form of a character who plays many characters.

I use these films as my cases in point: Sliding Doors (1998, Peter Howitt), Multiplicity (1996, Harold Ramis), Fight Club (1999, David Fincher), eXistenZ, (1999, David Cronenberg), Passion of the Mind (2000, Alain Berliner), The Family Man (2000, Brett Ratner), Me Myself I (1999, Pip Karmel), Down to Earth (2001, Chris and Paul Weitz), Possible Worlds (2000, Robert Lepage), The One (2001, James Wong), The Bourne Identity (2002, Doug Liman), Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg)

The thing about Hollywood and a lot of popular culture is that, because it is governed by the market place, it represents more than an act of imagination. Any given film is a bet. When the bet is wrong, studios lose money, stars lose some of their brilliance and directors, some of them, never work again.

So far transformation has been a risky bet. Many of the films on my list have failed or “underperformed.”

But Hollywood continues to make the bet. If you add up all the budgets for these films, the bet now comes out to $447 million.

We can also say that the following actors have bet a chunk of their careers: Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Demi Moore, Nicolas Cage, Rachel Griffiths, Chris Rock, Tom McCamus, Jet Li, Matt Damon, and Leo DiCaprio.

The way to think about it anthropologically, I think, is to say that Hollywood can hear transformation has a new imperative in popular culture, but, like the rest of us, it is having a hard time figuring out how to treat the theme.