16 August 2004

This month's Rolling Stone interview with Tom Cruise, which can be found here, is worth reading, in particular because of a few lines that neatly express why I find this guy so interesting:
Cruise is a dedicated student of the action-hero disciplines: He wants to gain competence, he says, at rock-climbing and flying; he is loath to use a stunt double, preferring instead to spend months training in swordplay, Nascar racing and bike-riding for films. As he talks about his adventuring skills, one gets the feeling that in the event of an apocalypse, an action hero would have a more likely chance of survival than most ordinary folk.

Cruise considers the idea. In fact, there's nothing that you can say that he won't seriously consider. He pays attention, almost to a fault. "I can live out in the woods," he begins. "I would eat bugs. I can use a sword and a pistol and stuff."

Cruise, ultimately, is a survivor. "There's a confidence that comes from knowing you can work, no matter what," he says. "I can deliver papers. I can take care of myself."
Obviously, there's a lot to unpack here, but I'll give it a shot. When you compare Cruise to his costars in The Outsiders—Matt Dillon, Partick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez—it's pretty clear that he isn't the best looking or most talented of the bunch (Matt Dillon is probably the best actor; as for the best looking, well, take your pick). So why is he the biggest movie star in the world? Maybe because of a systematic, ruthless drive for omnicompetence. Cruise's career is the ultimate example of how a short, modestly talented guy can, by dint of hard work, discipline, and obsessive single-mindedness, transform himself into some proximate version of the Perfect Human. A great movie star, yes, but one who could also repeople a desolate earth given a Perfect Woman or two, or risk everyhing on one turn of pitch-and-toss, lose, and start again with the same relentless ambition as before.

Note that this quest for perfection doesn't seem to have extended to politics, where Cruise has no professed opinions, or to his philosophy, which consists entirely of Scientology. Still, for all his flaws, he's still the most visible exemplar I can find of the heights to which the impulse for self-perfection can carry an individual who, as created, was arguably less than superhuman.

As for the hidden psychic costs, the Rolling Stone interview with Cruise makes these regrettably clear, too. As somebody once said about something else: "There's no there there."

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