A wise man* once said, “There’s nothing sadder than an old queen.” While I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of this statement, I can state with no hesitation that, based on what I saw unfold in Clint Eastwood’s film J. EDGAR, there is nothing sadder than an old drug-addicted, self-loathing, paranoid, and vindictive queen. That was J. Edgar Hoover (as performed by a very earnest Leonardo DiCaprio in elaborate make-up and prosthetics), the guiding menace behind the FBI who saw communist plots in his fruit salad and left no public figure without a file detailing all of their plots to destroy America and its freedoms that we love.** These files would later be shredded by his secretary (and fag hag pseudo-wife) so the world would never know that Eleanor Roosevelt was actually, in Hoover’s mind, a lesbian. Since we now know that Dr. Martin Luther King was just a puppet for international communism***, Hoover managed to get that cat out of the bag. A highlight of the film is Hoover watching Dr. King accept the Nobel Peace Prize on television with his longtime companion, a fellow Hoover brought into the force because he knew he “couldn’t live without him.” Hoover was certain King would not accept the prize since the FBI had “the goods” on him, the goods being that he had had an affair with a woman, which was caught on tape. When Dr. King accepts the award, Hoover shuts off the television and shrinks away like a dumpy Dracula from the light of America’s true voice of the future. While Eastwood strives to depict a fair portrait of Hoover the man by showing him from “speedy” young go-getter with a hard-on for card cataloging and a Norman Bates-ian mommy fixation, what comes through the shit-ton of old-age make-up is a lifetime of delusion and self-aggrandizing that, if it had festered on a small scale, would have harmed few others outside the gravitation pull of the afflicted. But, since Hoover wielded the strength of an entire organization armed with the power to quite literally destroy the lives of those he considered enemies, his malady is far more dangerous in its malignancy. In the end, Hoover finds himself out-Hoovered only by the Grand Master of Paranoia, the one and only Richard Milhous Nixon (who says something like, “That little cocksucker is finally dead,” when he hears of the demise of Hoover). While some of Hoover’s achievements should not be denigrated (organized crime was an aggressive threat, the KKK needed to be stopped, and genuine communism — not the imagined kind came out of progressive movements or union organizing — was a threat worth neutralizing), his legacy will forever be viewed as one of contradictions and a drive to purge away filth that was as much an act of self-hatred as it was a love for country. As the film ends with two young actors made up like old men playing out a gay version of On Golden Pond, this viewer was in no way emotionally moved by the secret love affair that ended with a tubby Hoover, the bloated daffodil, dead on his floor and tenderly covered by his lover. It’s impossible to muster up any empathy for the overseer of the COINTELPRO program. Those who deserve that empathy (hell, sympathy) were the countless men and women whose lives were obliterated and movements destroyed by illegal surveillance, forgery, use of agent provocateurs, planted evidence and murder. The ugly little man wearing his mother’s dress deserves little more than our contempt.
* This astute observation is traditionally attributed to Aristotle, but recently unearthed archeological evidence may indicate it was first uttered by Sophocles around 460 BCE.
** Though certain freedoms, like those of speech, association, and the press, were mere tools of the omnipresent communist menace.
*** Oh, wait, only kooky conspiracy theorists believe this? Then I guess JEH wasn’t so effective in propagating this untruth.
J. Edgar opens today at the Ritz Five.