Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome. See my complete profile
Squatter, vagabond, recreational arsonist, accidental messiah - these are all perfectly apt descriptions of Hesher (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He also may be slightly deranged, depending on how you view things.
Hesher implants himself in Forney household with Paul (Rainn Wilson), Paul’s son T.J. (Devon Brochu), and Paul’s mother (Piper Laurie) after a run in with the youngest of the group. An overall weakness in the house due to the tragedy of Paul’s wife/ T.J.’s mom dying in a car accident makes it so nobody really fights to kick him out.
Throughout the film you never really learn who Hesher is. His backstory never fully fills out, but the movie actually works better this way. As a viewer you’re learning who Hesher is bit by bit just like the characters are. This puts the viewer and the characters on the same level, which is unusual, but is a creative storytelling device. We can’t predict what he’s going to do next because nobody can, and the fun of Hesher is having no idea what he’s going to do next.
For all his craziness, Hesher does have heart. Sometimes it’s misguided, and very over the top, like his numerous retributions to the bully who constantly picked on TJ at school, but the heart is there. It’s most evident in his relationship with T.J.’s grandmother, who is extremely accepting. The two share a number of nice moments and Hesher prods T.J. to go on a walk with her, offering to do so himself.
Natalie Portman’s character of Nicole enters this mess by being a mess herself. She’s a down on her luck cashier at a grocery store who can’t catch a break, but meets T.J. when she pulls a bully off him in the store’s parking lot. Nicole is almost motherly in the way she fends off the bully. T.J. develops a crush on her and ends up trying to protect her. This seems to be T.J.’s way of trying to make up for the fact that he couldn’t protect his mother. T.J.’s oedipal crush on Nicole is understandable, because she’s not really his mother and, for God’s sake, she’s Natalie Portman!
The motherly dynamic is also apparent in a scene that was extremely reminiscent of a scene from Rebel Without a Cause. Hesher takes Nicole and T.J. to a house that’s for sale and plays, and I’m using that term loosely, in the pool. It’s a modern day version of when James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo’s characters in Rebel Without a Cause were hanging out in an abandoned mansion and, at one point, playing in an empty pool. The almost parental roles Hesher and Nicole have in relation to T.J. mirror the relationship Dean’s and Wood’s characters had in relation to Mineo’s.
Overall, the story of the film Hesher involves coping and how different people do it. A whole lot of interesting events happen in the movie, but writing them out would ruin the film entirely. The ending is both morose and beautiful, which is a fitting contradiction for a movie that’s so creative and unique.