Yesterday, I posted a piece connecting Indiana basketball to 1990’s indy-film darling, Clerks. You should read it. Of course you should read it.
I got a response to it that I found intriguing.
— Brian Fisher (@bp_fisher) November 19, 2015
But first, I brief note on why.
I’ve been thinking about Tusk a lot since I saw it months ago, but I haven’t figured out exactly how to write about it. So, in the absence of a real idea for how to write about Tusk, I’ll use this challenge as my jumping off point.
Are you familiar with Tusk? Let me hip you to it.
Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier have a very entertaining podcast, called Smodcast, where they basically talk about whatever interests or amuses them. And during one episode a while back they read a story out of England that turned out to be a fake story written explicitly to be odd and funny. The story was this: A guy posted an ad requesting a roommate. You could come live with him for free on one condition. You had to dress and act like a walrus for approximately two hours a day. You can read the ad here.
It morphed into an idea for a horror movie where instead of dressing up like a walrus, a guy actually turns another guy into a walrus.
To quote Smith, this idea “captured his imagination” and throughout the course of the Smodcast episode #259 The Walrus and the Carpenter, he and Mosier riffed on the idea to the point where Smith decided he wanted to make this into a movie. He launched a Twitter campaign, asking listeners to tweet his #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo if they wanted to see him make a movie about a dude who turned another dude into a Walrus.
#WalrusYes was the overwhelming consensus, and Tusk was born.
And it is a weird movie. As one might expect.
Note: Beyond here lie spoilers.
Justin Long plays Wallace Brighton, a podcaster who travels to Canada to do some interviews for his show, while his podcasting partner stays back at home and has sex with his girlfriend, unbeknownst to Brighton.
He finds himself at the home of a crazy old man who drugs him and through a series of surgeries turns Brighton into a walrus. That’s the first half of the movie.
The second half involves his podcast-mate, Terry Craft, played by Haley Joel Osment, his girlfriend, and Johnny Depp as a Canadian police officer, named after a hockey player, trying to find their missing friend. In a career of oddball characters, Guy Lapoint is one of Depp’s oddest. And he’s hysterically funny.
I’ll spoiler the ending later because I find the end so confusing, but for now I want to talk about what is really interesting to me about Tusk.
Kevin Smith remade Psycho with a guy in a full-body walrus outfit. And I didn’t see anyone else mention that. Possibly because they were either disgusted, bored, irritated, amused, or horrified by the execution of Tusk. Any of those responses is valid, I think.
It’s a strange movie.
But here’s the deal, Psycho starts out as a movie about a woman having an affair, then changes to a heist movie, then a horror movie, then it becomes the story of the sister and the lover trying to find Marian Crane.
Tusk starts out as comedy about podcasters, where there is also an affair happening, then changes to a horror movie, then it becomes a the story of the girlfriend and the podcast partner trying to find the guy who, instead of being murdered in a shower, has been turned into a walrus. Same basic beats. Same misdirection. Same act structure, more or less.
Now, the challenge.
What does any of that have to do with Indiana Basketball?
Both of those stories, Psycho and Tusk, are at their heart, stories about things not being what they seem, about transformation, and about the search for salvation. And while one is a masterpiece and the other is mostly just really, really weird, they’re also both about Indiana Basketball.
Follow me here.
When Crean took the IU job in 2008, the program was in disarray, but it still seemed like a golden opportunity to him. Just like when Marion Crane got the chance to steal that money and skip town, or when Wallace Brighton saw the opportunity to go interview some poor soul so that he and Craft could make fun of him.
Crane was risking a life on the run, Brighton was risking a long trip into the Canadian wilderness, and Crean was risking a good job where he’d been successful to come to a program that was pretty visibly broken.
And then things got worse.
Crane was murdered in a shower, Brighton was turned into a walrus, and Crean learned he had no players and everything was MUCH worse on the inside than it appeared on the outside.
But it’s not just that Tom Crean is Wallace Brighton here. Or the Crean is an anagram of Crane (Mind blown!).
It’s also the nature of the stories.
I’ve discussed the intentional misdirection in these two movies about what kind of story they were actually telling. But, the same holds true for Indiana Basketball.
At first, Crean’s tenure, seemed like a story of redemption. Crean comes in, cleans up the program, returns IU to #1, the enemy is vanquished (Watford’s 3 against UK), and the hero is triumphant.
Then we lost to Syracuse in 2013, and it seemed like maybe it was not a redemption story, but maybe it was like Rocky where he comes close, doesn’t win, but learns something valuable about life and himself along the way.
But then everything started to fall apart and maybe what we were watching was a tragedy (in the classical sense where the hero is undone in the end, often by his own failings).
Crean had been lauded for how he’d recruited and rebuilt the program by bringing in kids committed to doing things the right way. This was not IU, as Sampson had made it. This was an IU we could all be proud of.
Until we didn’t win, and the most lauded recruiting class, the recruiting class that gave itself a nickname, turned out to be filled with players who either weren’t very good, didn’t fit, or made repeated terrible decisions that publicly damaged the program and the coach that brought them in.
But Crean didn’t quit, or lose his job after all that stuff, and The Movement is almost gone, so maybe it isn’t a tragedy after all. Maybe this is Rocky II, where Rocky got a second chance, and this time won the title.
We just don’t know yet.
But it’s not just the things are worse than they seem angle, or the changing nature of the story being told. It’s also about transformation.
Norman Bates was obsessed with taxidermy and birds. So much so that he preserved his mother’s body and pretended she was still alive. But he also transformed himself into her in his mind, in his dress, in his actions.
Wallace Brighton was transformed into a damn walrus for crying out loud. It’s not exactly subtle here.
And Crean has been transformed by his experiences in Bloomington. Gary Parrish just published a piece on cbssports.com about this very thing.
Crean has been publicly tortured (Strong word, yes, but read the stories about his son’s basketball game and his daughter’s idiot professor in Parrish’s piece as examples) like Brighton was tortured.
Crean has changed and been changed as well.
Read Parrish’s account of the conversations Crean and his wife, Joanie, had on the night that Devin Davis was hit by a car.
But it’s not just that. Crean has removed himself from social media entirely and has become more outwardly religious over his time in Bloomington. I don’t know him personally, but when he was hired, I don’t recall a ton of talk about God, and faith, and religion.
Prior to his twitter exit the only things that he would post with any regularity were religious quotes and inspirational sayings from people who speak and write about religion. And now, in interviews, he talks about grooming his players into being the faith leaders in their own families.
By all accounts, Crean is more at peace now than he has been in years. He’s changed. He hasn’t changed into a walrus, but he’s gone through a transformation.
And as a final odd coincidence, the Smodcast episode was entitled, The Walrus and the Carpenter, which is of course a reference to the poem by Lewis Carroll, as told to Alice by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, about a walrus and a carpenter who meet some oysters and get them to follow them, only to later eat the oysters.
An interpretation of this poem is offered by the character Loki in another Kevin Smith’s films, Dogma as a condemnation of both eastern and western religion, the walrus being Buddha and the Carpenter being Jesus, and the oysters they attract and later eat are the followers of these faith leaders, being mislead and destroyed.
So, maybe, Crean hasn’t turned into a walrus, but rather a carpenter, who has tricked us all into following him and is later going to devour us. After all, Tusk is about Brighton’s friends’ attempt to save him, Psycho is about the attempt to save Marion Crane, and Crean was hired to save IU basketball.
That’s probably a pretty big stretch in my attempt to parallel IU basketball and Tusk. But it’s no more ridiculous than anything else I’ve posited.
Oh, and as to the ending of Tusk. Brighton is rescued, but only after he’s been turned into a walrus. And for reasons I don’t get, his friends don’t rush him to a hospital to have these surgeries, horrific though they are, reversed. They just put in him a petty zoo and bring him fish from time to time.
Have a I mentioned that it’s a weird movie, or that I was challenged to do this?