Al Pacino’s ‘The Humbling’ confuses viewers with nonsensical plot


Featuring Al Pacino, 'The Humbling' confuses viewers with the lack of a clear plot line. 

Viewpoints Editor

The 21st Austin Film Festival was just like any other 21 year old: it realized too late that it could not be drunk and do work well. The result was Al Pacino’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel, “The Humbling.”

The main character, Simon Axler, played by Al Pacino, was depicted as an antiquated and befuddled actor. Axler’s mind began to blur the line between reality and his plays. After attempted suicide, Axler was institutionalized for several weeks. His first week home, Axler was visited by a friend’s daughter, Pegeen Stapleford, played by Greta Gerwig. Shortly after announcing she is a lesbian, Stapleford and Axler begin a complicated and intense relationship.

The film began promisingly enough. The audience was introduced as Axler recited his lines backstage before his play. On stage, Axler’s lines became muddled and he blacked out–falling off stage.

During his hospitalization, Axler must have realized that his mind was leaving him, and he could no longer remember lines for the play. His life’s work could not go on. When he got home, Axler remained lifeless for 16 days before deciding to kill himself.

Attempted suicide landed Axler institutionalized, where he met another disturbed person, Sybil, who wanted her husband murdered for molesting her child. After seeing Axler kill people in movies, Sybil explained Axler would be most qualified for the position.

Sybil, played by Nina Arianda, explained that she was institutionalized after going berserk when she found her husband under her young daughter’s skirt. Axler’s monologue talked over parts of her story and he described how all he could think about was her bad acting. The audience laughed; I cringed. While I focused on the fact that Sybil never explained how she was put in the institution or why her children were left with their abusive father, the audience must have been giggling at Al Pacino’s face which consistently looked like he was high and having a stroke.

If there was a plot in this movie, it would have been twisted when Axler returned home. The daughter of an old costar, Stapleford, was sent to give Axler a care package. She confessed how, when she was younger, she was in love with Axler. Stapleford stayed for dinner and confessed her relationship with her parents was strained because they did not like who she was living with. Immediately after announcing her roommate was her girlfriend, Stapleford began making out with Axler. After successive fact-checking, it is clear that this is not how lesbianism works.

The two began a relationship anyway which consisted of Stapleford’s numerous girlfriends showing up and Stapleford spending all of Axler’s money. Stapleford is basically Anna Nicole Smith minus large boobs.

One ex consistently called Axler and told him Stapleford would milk him of his money and happiness and then dump him. Another was a transgender man that would sometimes stare at Stapleford from a distance on Axler’s property. He would occasionally have dinner or tea with the couple too.  

At this point, there are several sub-plots and new characters and nobody in the film seems to know what’s happening either. The only clear message is that Axler is unable to distinguish what he invents in his mind and what is real. This blended reality is what leads Axler to going to a fertility clinic to test his sperm. He finds out he can still be a father and is ready to tell Stapleford.

Axler waits to tell Stapleford the good news until the opening night of “King Lear,” the first play he agreed to do since his illness.

“I just can’t do it anymore!” Stapleford said, claiming the same thought I had since the first ten minutes of the movie passed. She broke up with him and, unlike me, was able to leave the theater.

Follow Sara on Twitter @katanakatona