Reflectors vs. Absorbers: A Hollywood Theory for Why Romney-Ryan Will Lose
Here's why the Romney-Ryan ticket is a turn-off to voters and why they won't win in November, and it isn't only about their granny-starving, wealth-worshiping policies. The secret to the scary-bad vibe these guys give off as potential president and vice president lies in something a Hollywood veteran taught me 20 years ago: They're both "absorbers."
Illustration via Flickr It's not their policies that will sink them. It's their optics.
In the movie business, my screenwriter-director friend explained, there's a theory about what makes films (and TV shows) succeed or fail. It's all about the casting. And the casting depends on the chemistry of the stars. And onscreen chemistry can be simplified this way: Some people are reflectors and some are absorbers. You cast accordingly.
Being one or the other has little to do with how pretty or sexy someone is, though that is part of it. The qualities of reflecting or absorbing are more ephemeral. Basically, some human beings reflect light naturally and some seem to absorb it. Some give off a positive attitude and express believable sincerity, and some have something darker lurking just beneath the surface. Many great actors seem like they're lit from within, beaming it outward, and others, just as great acting-wise, are the dark entities, drawing light into themselves.
It's why Meryl Streep, a three-time Oscar-winning million-watt reflector, can't play a villain convincingly. Reflectors play heroes. They're the ones you love to see come out on top. Yes, she played Maggie Thatcher, whom some would regard as villainous politically. But the real Maggie was a gigantic reflector. That's why she was a political superstar. Ditto Ronald Reagan, a reflector who became a bigger heroic figure as president than he ever was as a movie actor (he usually played either a goofy romantic lead or a good guy who died young, typical reflector roles).
Absorbers are more believable playing antagonists to the reflectors' protagonists. They make good anti-heroes and sexy-but-troublesome lovers. Think about some classic successful reflector/absorber teams in the movies: Ginger Rogers (reflector) and Fred Astaire (absorber); Lauren Bacall (reflector) and Humphrey Bogart (absorber); Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart; Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart; Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
Bogart was the perfect actor-absorber, able to play a bad guy or a romantic lead opposite Hollywood's most beautiful reflectors. In Casablanca opposite Bergman, his absorber qualities were used to great effect by director Michael Curtiz, who kept Bogey's character Rick almost always in partial shadow; Bergman got the light. Directors used to know better how to use the reflector-absorber qualities of their stars. Alfred Hitchcock employed it perfectly in Psycho - reflector Janet Leigh seemed to give off a golden glow even in the black and white cinematography; villain Anthony Perkins, a natural absorber as an actor, was bathed in darkness.
More recently, examples of successful reflector-absorber match-ups in movies include absorber Ben Affleck doing his best work opposite reflector-buddy Matt Damon. Reflector Amy Adams is delightful opposite charming absorbers like Jason Segel (who, interestingly, is now involved in real life with reflector Michelle Williams). Absorber Vince Vaughn found an ideal reflecting co-star in Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers. And Vaughn was pretty good opposite reflector Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up. The problem with Vaughn is, he tries to be a reflector. He should always let his co-stars do the shining.
Why did we love The Artist? Why did it win all those Oscars? Because Jean Dujardin is a supernova reflector and every frame of that movie was designed to amplify it. Why is Christian Bale so good as Batman? Because actor and character are classic absorbers.
Top reflectors in movies now: Streep, Emma Stone, Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Jason Bateman, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Keaton (still).