The man who can’t be categorized

Ben Affleck confuses me. He confuses me in an “Am I attracted to this man?” way but also in a “Who is this guy exactly?” way.

He’s going to be the new Batman. He’s regarded as a nuanced actor after having a very sad downturn in Hollywood for a couple of years. He’s gone viral on his views about Islam and he’s even directing movies now.

This past week, NPR’s newest show, “Invisibilia,” is all about the power of categories. As humans, we function by having categories for everything. We see a couch and know it’s a couch and not a bomb or Daredevil. Ben Affleck somehow evades my constant attempts at categorizing him.

I got the idea for this article when I watched “Gone Girl,” though the idea may have really started in that dark room where a young boy of the world watched a historical documentary film called “Pearl Harbor.” I knew nothing about this Pearl Harbor event and was so moved at how these brave souls, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, were broken by the surprise Japanese attack.

In the film, the Americans mounted a dangerous counter-attack even though Hartnett finally got with the love interest, much to Affleck’s loss. Instead of hiding to save himself for his baby, Hartnett decided to drop some bombs but ended up dying. Harnett’s last words were telling Affleck that he must take up the role of father for Harnett’s child.

I was not aware of the historical inaccuracies and weird wife-swap concept so I thought this was just a great movie. The movie does not hold up very well today (big surprise) but it is amazing to see how far Affleck’s acting chops have come.

“Gone Girl” was such a great movie. It looked cool, had interesting characters and the plot had enough surprises to keep the suspense high even after an exhausting scene. Everyone in that movie performed great, but Affleck was the main actor and, hot damn, he was  good.

His performance as a distraught husband from the Midwest hiding a secret was phenomenal. He was attractive and scary and charming and confused, sometimes in one scene.

Affleck is credited as an actor 62 times on IMDB, yet his body of work paints a very confusing picture. There are random roles early on in his career before becoming a star, but then there are also these random roles that happen when he has become a star””for example, he appears as a guy who just gawks at this couple making out in “Clerks II.”

Is he just a fun guy who loves popping up in Kevin Smith? As a counter-argument to that, Affleck has played a lot of melodramatic, brooding, handsome men. So is he just a serious actor who does dramas? His performances have just the slightest hint of irony and charm even in his darkest performances.

But this bright star couldn’t keep shining. Ben Affleck started acting in worse and worse movies, which led the entire industry to dismiss him as a pretty boy with no acting chops. On a tangent, I would like to say that I don’t consider “Daredevil” awful. It was before comic book movies were good and the movie tried”””A” for effort, I guess.

I digress though. Ben Affleck became a joke with no end in sight. He took two-year break. Then he starred in some movies when he came back, and his directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” was reviewed amazingly by critics. He appeared in a couple more movies then came out with his second directed movie, “The Town.”

By this time, I knew he disappeared but didn’t realize he had come back. I hadn’t heard of “Gone Baby Gone” a few years earlier. I saw “The Town”and realized that, wow, I like Ben Affleck. He kicked ass in the film, but the film also kicked ass. Since then, he’s been in highly regarded movies.

One of those highly regarded movies is “Argo.” The improbable story of some filmmakers who helped solve the Iranian hostage crisis, “Argo” won three Academy Awards and was nominated for seven. When “Argo” one the big award, Affleck’s career revamp was complete. He gave a speech for best picture that was, oddly, confrontational. He spoke about the low he had and about his come back.

It sounded kind of crazy and sincere at the same time, if that makes sense. “Argo,” I thought, was highly overrated and felt more like a rollercoaster ride than anything. I felt emotionally manipulated but hey, it was a well-done movie.

There isn’t a lot of confusion about his political views. He’s a vocal Democrat. My confusion in this regard stems from the fact that I’ve seen him speak a couple of times and I’m not absolutely certain if I think he’s smart or just passionate and charming.

Either way, I’ve realized it doesn’t matter. He’s a confusing person who doesn’t fit the categories in my head. I want to be more upset by it but, in fact, I kind of like it. He is, after all, a normal person beneath all the glamour of Hollywood.

In fact, come to think of it, the actual problem may not be that he’s hard to categorize but that other people are too easy to categorize.

Affleck has had ups and downs, but in spite of that, he’s still trying. As a result, I don’t doubt that his career will be highly regarded when we all look back on it.