FRANK is a brilliant, introspective, and illuminating film based partially on real events. It follows a bumbling, seemingly talentless, wanna-be musician (Jon) as he gets sucked into the world of a charismatic and mysterious Frank – a man with a paper mache mask for a head. At first, it seems Frank and his pals are the ones with the vision, and Jon is desperate to be someone more than who he is. He craves fame and respect and Frank, he is immediately sure, will help him get there. It quickly becomes obvious to the viewer what John doesn’t realize until later: Frank is severely mentally ill, along with at least a few of his bandmates. His genius isn’t in his wackiness, but is obscured by it; the sad truth is that Frank’s musical talent wasn’t set free by giving in to his illness, but his illness robbed him of the chance to truly express his talent. Outside of the carefully manufactured and strictly guarded world that Frank allows Jon to be a part of, the outside world – let in by John’s tweets and blog posts (part of his desire to connect with others and find his audience) – can clearly see what Jon doesn’t.
John think they’re making avant garde art. The world thinks they’re making a joke.
Warning: vague spoilers ahead
Jon is the perfect representation of what a lot of us creative types feel at times. He’s trying hard to make something work, so much so that he ignores his own potential and keeps inadvertently ripping off others, who he sees as more talented than himself. At the same time, he recognizes that he’s going nowhere. When he stumbles upon Frank’s band – the “Soronprfbs” (a name which, of course, is unpronounceable and means absolutely nothing, but seems strange and therefore cool) – he sees his opportunity to be a part of an established group, invited up on stage to play. Finally, his chance to be someone.
The performance fails, falls apart, and should have been enough to warn Jon off Frank’s band forever, but when he gets invited to join them for a recording session in Ireland, he tells himself that the first night’s drama was a fluke, and the overall weirdness is worth it to be a part of a recorded album. He gives up job, family, eventually savings, to stay in their “nest”, constantly dismissed but always hopeful that one day the others will see his contributions as useful. Of course, they don’t, since the rest of the band is entirely focused on Frank. They’ve joined his cult, drank his Kool-aide, and whatever else they could have been, they are now only his entourage. That’s okay, because they too felt that emptiness that Jon felt, and they gave up themselves to feel a little of Frank’s madness. Without him, they don’t know what to do, and more than that, they see Jon as trying to take Frank away from him.
That conflict builds throughout the film, until ultimately it all breaks down – the band, Frank, all of it. Of course it does. How could it not?
The characters in the film constantly make it clear that Jon isn’t “good enough” to be one of them, but it should be clear to the viewer that Jon is exactly the guy we want to be. Sure, he gets involved in something dangerous and crazy – not “crazy” in the sense of an insult, but actually unbalanced and ill – but at least he took the opportunity when it came along. And he held on to himself along the way, even as he was fighting to ignore the voice in his head that told him something was very wrong here. He’s the one who’s not trying to keep Frank sick for his own purposes, but actually (eventually) trying to make him healthier. He’s the one who realizes there’s a problem, the one who actually gets them a chance to play a real gig, and who tracks down Frank when things go south. He’s the one who realizes that Frank isn’t tortured by outside influences, but has a disease, and he’s the one who realizes that it’s okay to not destroy himself just to be a part of Frank’s group. He’s there when Frank ultimately tries something different, at the very end, and produces his best work of the film, by letting a little more of his real self into the wold.
Jon lived a little. He learned from his mistakes, and he used that experience to grow as a person, which can only better his art. He’s the one for whom this whole trip was not a holding pattern or a waste of time, because he didn’t decide that the admiration of a few was better than whatever he could be if he finally listened to himself.
I think that the Internet is a lot like the “Soronprfbs” at times. We get online, onto Twitter and Facebook and into chat rooms, and we see who’s the leader of the group. Who’s got the strong opinions and who others admire. We fall into these cliques, like high school lunch tables, and we want to be with the cool kids. It takes a while to realize that the ones who shout loudest and try hardest to control the opinions of those around them – often by attacking anyone who doesn’t agree – might be masters of their crowd, but what are they creating? Sure, maybe you get in with someone making an book and by playing nice you get to be part of that anthology, but is it any good? Are you improving your work, finding your voice, or finding the one that gets you the most praise and the least amount of negativity from others? And how long can you make that last? People like that are constantly gaining and losing followers at the fringe, because the moment you don’t perfectly fit their needs, you’re out.
The man who wrote the book (who Jon’s based from), and a lot of the people who briefly entered Frank’s circle, did so much with their lives after they realized you don’t need to have (or fake) mental illness in order to be a genius. There’s something very powerful about being able to say, like Jon, yeah, I don’t need this drama anymore. I have my own music to write, my own stories to tell, and I’m okay with who I really am.