2020 – Vanity Fair
March 11, 2020
Hi. My name is Betty Gilpin, and I’m that one blonde, self-deprecating tit platter who cries sometimes in things your niece half-watches while also scrolling Instagram. Last year, I did a movie that got canceled. I wrote the following addled thesis-wedding toast to Uncle Sam the day after it was canceled, in an Uber on my iPhone. I was asked to wait for the right time to press send, which I feel is now—but maybe there’s no right time for anything anymore, and also, here we go.
There was this guy from my hometown. He used to get drunk and steal pigs. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Before his name meant beige sectionals for tipsy divorcées to sob into, Ethan Allen was an American hero. Well, according to legend, first he was an asshole.
I grew up in a farmish corner of New England very close to where Ethan was born, although his exact birthplace is angrily disputed, because if you angrily dispute something your life has true meaning and you get into the Delta lounge in heaven. But we did town plays about him and chuckled collectively at tales of his famous misbehavior. My favorite is when he “seized” a neighbor’s pigs in the middle of the night, and then willfully represented himself in court, making the possibility of jail time a certainty. But all this could be chuckled at because of his later heroics; among other achievements, he led the famous Green Mountain Boys to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British in the dead of night. It was one of the first major offensive moves from the Americans against them redcoats in the Revolutionary War—perhaps one of the early moments where the Brits started shitting their silks.
But I like to think about Ethan before the glory—when he was just a kid with a churning electric fire monster inside him, a monster that had to be fed with action and purpose and adventure. And revolution. If left unattended, midnight pigs were going to get tackled and lager was going to get chugged. But if fueled with passion and intent, the monster inside could change the course of history.
His story fills me with American pride. I think this inner electric fire monster exists today as maybe the last shred of soul DNA that connects us all—that regardless of what channel makes you want to put your TV in a lake, there’s a scrappy blood-in-its-teeth, foulmouthed revolutionary rattling the bars of your rib cage, begging for a purpose. A little tiny Ethan Allen stomping on your spleen saying, what’s it gonna be today—pigs or passion? Because this feeling has got to go somewhere. It was easier long ago when the script was clear: run at the horizon with a spear, pound your chest for the cause, and then collapse in meats and song.
Now it’s grayer. It’s confusing to be an on-fire revolutionary when your job for the day is to try not to eat a pen out of boredom at the DMV, or when listening to Jared in the next cubicle over somehow making his yogurt sound like obese otters having sex in a paint can, or when you’re waiting for the wave of the purpose and wonder of being alive to hit you…and instead you’re just still in a Kinko’s parking lot screaming vowels into your steering wheel. Somewhere along the way we forgot where to funnel the inner revolutionary, or how, and so we learned to shove him down under a trapdoor because his outstretched hand was too painful to look at. We sit on top of the trapdoor and try to busy our brains until we die. (I watch The Bachelor. It’s the death of humanity, but, you know. It’s fun.) Then sometimes the trapdoor is ripped open and the electric monster revolutionary is puked onto the internet, raging our rage and spewing our passions in poison sound bites; this is the end of days, and if I’m not screaming then I’m not alive.
I don’t know how I’d explain all this to Ethan Allen’s ghost if he decided to scare the shit out of me on a hike or something, being all transparent and tipsy on an oak stump asking me what the hell happened to the country he fought for. I’d try to explain that some of us are screaming terrifying bumper sticker phrases that don’t look good on paper in a stadium, and some of us are barking through shrill paragraphs that don’t play well in stadiums, and being enraged and correct is the only thing that feels like you’re charging a fort in the dead of night. And we’re so far away from each other that we start with screaming conclusions and let the poison of our various light boxes fill in the beginning and middle. And then we turn on The Bachelor.
I did a movie about this. I did a movie about how America has a fever. It’s a satire about a group of out-of-touch, oat-milk-latte-sipping, kid-glove-wearing elites whose careers are ruined by a baseless internet conspiracy perpetuated by a rage-fueled comment section. These now outcast elites then enact revenge—carrying out the very horrific lie they were falsely accused of. They become the monsters they begged the world to believe they weren’t.
They are the bad guys in this movie. They are also, as is everyone, eviscerated with a samurai sword of satire—so much so that when I first read the script I indignantly folded my arms midway through and looked away from the screen, only to make eye contact with my own oat-milk latte, which was stifling a laugh. Watching the finished product, you feel the ultimate sin as a modern American—confusion. You laugh and wince at your enemy, then you laugh and wince at yourself. It’s metaphorically sitting at the final divorce signing and in tears laughing at how it all went wrong.
The film also has Orwellian themes about the slow, silent infection of totalitarianism. There are references to Animal Farm, a book whose CliffsNotes I read on shrooms in 2003, then sober in 2018. It’s about a group of animals who try to create the perfect society after they break free of human dictatorship. Spoiler alert: They, oopsie, create a pigs-in-pants, humanesque dictatorship. The pig at the top controls the farm with fear and rage. Orwell also wrote this other book about the expulsion of free speech and free thought. Sadly, I was tripping on Robitussin for the last part of that one, but I think it doesn’t end well.
Our movie is a satire, but it’s also an action movie. In America, we hate each other, but we love action movies. Our inner Ethan Allen springs out of our throats and catapults off our tub of popcorn when we see action movies. For these 90 minutes in the dark, I am not invisible and depressed and dealing with a UTI: I am Hobbs. I am Shaw. Whichever one The Rock is. Then the movie’s over, and I look at my phone and get red, white, and mad all over again.
What really drew me to this movie was my character, Crystal. To me, she is a living fuckery poem of who America is right now. You’re not sure what you’d see if you looked in her soul: a thousand warriors ready to save you, or a Solo cup full of pee. And now is the time to decide which one she wants to be. She’s also the only character whose political allegiances are unclear. She is the hero of the movie, raising a deranged eyebrow at both sides.
Our movie about America’s fever was set to come out when the fever had turned to cancer, and it wasn’t the right time for a satire involving guns. But something else happened too. The movie is about an internet falsehood that became a tidal wave in an Orwellian climate, which then silenced a group of people. And then in real life, the content of the movie became an internet falsehood that became a tidal wave in an Orwellian climate, which then silenced a group of people. And that, baby, is when satire will save us all.
I think people should see this movie. It’s meant to do the opposite of what the internet claims it wants to do, and it being locked in 1984 jail means we can only perpetuate myths about what it is, and continue to perpetuate myths about each other. The film is not meant to incite violence, or deepen the divide. It’s meant to make you laugh and feel a little uncomfortable, no matter what sticker you have on your car. In many test screenings, people of a variety of political backgrounds were asked a question: Does this film skew right or left? Unanimously, audiences said it was neutral. It’s not meant to stoke conflict—it’s meant to cross the battlefield the morning after, Starbucks in hand, both sides hungover and exhausted, and say, with tears in our eyes…I miss you, poopface.
Since the movie can’t ask it yet, I will. What’s it gonna be, America? Pigs or passion?