The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Opinion | The age-old question of separating art from the DiCaprio

Photo courtesy of the IMDb
Leonardo DiCaprio attends an event for Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film, “The Great Gatsby.”

As I walked out of AMC Champaign’s auditorium 11 on Thursday, I was in a strange mood. It was like I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t. I couldn’t even bring myself to laugh as I ambled past the unfortunately named BigD theater. See, my belly was full of popcorn, but my heart was full of something else.

Part of it was because of the combination of intricacy, intimacy and callous evil woven into the three-and-a-half hours of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” But that wasn’t the reason for my ontological framework crumbling, the walls of my mind palace tumbling and the righteous warrior in my rib cage rumbling.

It was because Leonardo DiCaprio, that ever-handsome slime, gave yet another brilliant performance. Because I walked out of the theater thinking, “Wow, that Leo fella is great!”

And, um, there are reasons one might disagree with that.

DiCaprio is notorious for his questionable dating habits, which apparently involve a hard cut-off at age 25. The pattern is the subject of analysis through such sophisticated lenses as the sociological causes for age gaps and the male attempt to escape so-called “twink death.”

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    If it makes any difference, if he can last through June with his current girlfriend, he’ll break the streak. 

    I’m certain that, afterward, the criticism will evaporate.

    Anyway, the real question of this column: Can you separate the art from the artist? 

    Normally, like any self-respecting undergraduate “Harry Potter” scholar, I would answer “Yes” without hesitation. But this is different. For an actor, the art is the artist — dressed in costume, in a persona, perhaps totally transformed, but watching DiCaprio’s character is also watching DiCaprio the man.

    This doesn’t decrease the value of the art. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Ernest Burkhart was a monumental feat. He managed to twist together ceaseless greed, racism, weakness, impressionability and some sideways version of love to reveal a real-life anti-hero.

    It gets awkward, though. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say, “DiCaprio did a fantastic job getting into the mind of a man who can so easily take advantage of a woman,” of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Whether or not we consciously recognize that fact as we enjoy the performance, whether or not we explicitly point that out in a review, it’s true.

    That feels wrong — does that mean his dating life amounts to Method acting? Were his relationships with women of immature prefrontal cortices “good practice” for the role? That’s obviously going too far. 

    However, appreciating DiCaprio’s portrayal for its quality and the difficulty of the role has a quiet alliance with appreciating DiCaprio as “the right man for the job.” A reviewer might say something like, “Only Leo could pull that off.” And the question is, why? What, in his life experience, allowed his performance as Ernest to be so convincing?

    DiCaprio’s past compels me to think of that grimy answer.

    Then again, I can’t say he ruins the movie — or any movie. I liked “Killers of The Flower Moon.” Making a big deal out of him is unfair to the thousands of people who worked tirelessly to tell an untold story, each of them individually talented artists or technicians.

    And if it were anyone else — for example, if I learned that the film’s sound editors have undiscovered racist tweets — you probably wouldn’t hear me squawking about “Art from the Artist” in a column. (Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to Philip and Julia Stockton; as far as I know, they are lovely people.)

    I think the conclusion, then, is that you can absolutely separate the whole film from DiCaprio — it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. However, when we are talking specifically about him, watching, enjoying or reviewing him, then his personal life — at least for me — is unavoidable.

    Okay, DiCaprio and his acting are indivisible. Got it. With that settled, there’s a second, open question.

    Are you excited to see what he’ll do next?


    Noah is a freshman in DGS.

    [email protected] 

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