The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf

'Nymphomaniac Volume I (long version)' Premiere - 64th Berlinale International Film Festival

“When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   -Eric Cantona (French soccer player and actor, following a media frenzy over an assault on a fan) and later repeated by Shia LaBeouf as he walked out of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac press conference

There is an antagonizing duality that comes with celebrity. Being innovative, creative and heroic like the first celebrities, the ancient Greek athletes, and being a mere human being with all its fallibility. There are two curiosities about Shia LaBeouf. Who does he hope to be and who is he? Does he even know himself? Should anyone care? One thing that’s clear… he’s fumbling… groping for something.

Shia was inducted into Hollywood when he was 14 years old in the tv show Even Stevens on the Disney Channel. At 21 he starred in the film Disturbia that is a moderately well done run-of-the-mill teenage thriller and the widely circulated big budget film Transformers. If one is keeping track they’re coming to the conclusion at this point that Shia is not interested in anything more than becoming famous and making lots of money. For years I discounted him as another manufactured star churned out by the Disney machine. Certainly he’s not interested in quality let alone anything avante garde.

He had a seemingly predictable Hollywood upbringing of partying and alcohol consumption. In 2007 he had a DUI arrest and was kicked out of Walgreens for misdemeanor criminal trespassing while heavily intoxicated. In 2011 he had an altercation while drunk at a bar in which he threatened to assault a guy who called him a name and instead he himself got punched in the face. There was another bar fight in Vancouver in 2011 and one more in London in 2014. This all reads very ordinary and very predictable of a well financed 20 something maturing in front of the paparazzi eye.

He was in an Indiana Jones and two more Transformers before it seems that something ignited in his brain.

In 2012 he started to disembark from the Hollywood studio.

He became meta.

He started pursuing more creative endeavors. He released 3 graphic novels, was cast in the cerebral and eclectic band Sigur Ros’ controversial music video about desire and addiction in which he is in the nude. He was cast in a Broadway play in Feb. 2013 but was fired for feuding with Alec Baldwin.

By the end of 2013 his semi-divorce from Hollywood seems to have reached an apex. Two of the graphic novels he wrote were revealed in 2013 to have been plagiarized. Then his short film was revealed to have been plagiarized and his apology for plagiarizing was plagiarized. What follows is either a conciliatory attempt at humility, a rebranding for the sake of hubris or a frenetic effort to become the artist he always wanted to be but was typecast out of.

A spiral of what to some seems downward is to Shia the beginning of a meta-modernist art installation.

  • Jan 2014 Shia takes to Twitter and says it’s his outlet for ‘meta-modernist performance art’
  • 2014, Shia walked out of the Berlin Film Festival press conference for the provocateur Director Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac quoting “When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   Later at the red carpet showing of Nymphomaniac he showed up wearing a paper bag over his head that read ‘I am not famous anymore’
  • 2014, two days after the red carpet showing Shia performs an art installation called #IAMSORRY in which he sat in a room with a paper bag on his head wearing a tuxedo. Attendees were invited to select an object (symbolic of moments from Shia’s past) and enter the room one at a time to do as they wish. Some of the implements were a Transformers toy, an Indiana Jones whip, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pair of pliers, a ukulele, a bowl full of hateful tweets directed at LaBeouf, and a copy of Clowes‘s book (that Shia plagiarized) The Death-Ray
  • 2014 Following the art installation Shia had skywriting done that said #startcreating that was the converse of his skywriting a month earlier (in response to Crowe’s cease and desist letter) that said #stopcreating
  • May 2014 he took part in a performance called “meditations for narcissists” in which he and attendees jumped rope for an hour
  • June 2014, Shia is kicked out of a Caberet performance on Broadway for drunken disorderly conduct and arrested. He stood up and screamed out at the actors and was later seen crying outside the venue and had spat at arresting officers
  • In 2014 he gave a lecture on ‘metamodernism’. He and a collaborator define metamodernism as “the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons,” and concluding with a call to “go forth and oscillate!

Check out the manifesto. Does it make sense to you? 

  • 2014 it was revealed that a woman “raped” Shia during his #IAMSORRY art installation

When the old gods withdraw, the empty thrones cry out for a successor, and with good management, or even without management, almost any perishable bag of bones may be hoisted into the vacant seat.   -E.R. Dodds, “The Greeks and the Irrational”

This art installation is sounding eerily familiar to Joaquin Phoenix’s stunt five years earlier in Casey Affleck’s mockumentary I’m Still Here. Is this the new Millennial quarter life crisis for celebrities or is this a rebirth? Are these the artistic ideas of someone shattering boundaries, expanding horizons, and embracing chaos in an effort to reach truth? Or is this someone that has been weaned from a very American, very affluent idea of what ‘soul searching’ is? Is meta soul searching a bunch of nonsense that allows belligerence and excuses immaturity? What does it mean to be both naïve and knowing, ironic and sincere? I have a feeling that his adaptation of the paradox is not the kind Mother Teresa was talking about when she spoke of love and loss. It must be a strange thing to try to be a famous artist yet a human being in the ‘meta-modern’ world of American pop culture.

I, for one, found Shia’s performance art in Sigur Ros’ and Sia’s videos to be a breath of fresh air for an actor I discounted as a clone. I hope he keeps questioning for the sake of truth and doesn’t get lost in the meaningless gibberish that is the pop culture idea of art or, likewise, the pop culture idea of truth. Eventually the journey should lead to something productive, objective and timeless otherwise it’s a lot of time wasted on ones vanity. And God, keep him from his transgressions that are broadcast to the world. Or at the very least grant him privacy in this digital age so that when he reaches out through the landscape of life he may arrive at something eternal.

The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf

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