You don’t choose to be me.
In the perfect complement to Basically, writer/director Ari Aster uses the same format of pitting his lead character against the camera for an incendiary diatribe about life, freedom, and oppression with C’est La Vie. Where the former centered upon a young, aspiring actress who proved a product of affluence and privilege, the latter focuses upon an irately aggressive homeless man named Chester Crummings (Bradley Fisher). What’s interesting is that he too had a life of excess before unforeseen circumstances (and a later revealed psychological condition) put him on the streets. Rather than lament his misfortune, however, he seeks to reveal the decline of civilization as a whole. There’s no better vantage for understanding that the world is burning than from the bottom looking up.
And just like that previous short, this one is keen to put Chester against incongruous surroundings and activities for full sensory impact. Here he’s ranting and raving while calmly taking the impact of an oncoming car; there he’s explaining the meaning of life as he finds a gun in the drawer of a home he just broke into before traveling towards the bedroom off-screen. Aster provides an unreliable narrator stuck within unreliable situations so that we are forced to re-contextualize what he has to say for ourselves. More than Shandy and her Hollywood excess, Chester is speaking about big picture topics with relatable vitriol and sometimes-resonant introspection to wonder if perhaps our preconceptions of crazy are only the product of our sense of superiority.
Of course they are. The majority of us are caught between Shandy and Chester, hoping to not succumb to the former’s ego (while praying for her wealth) or the latter’s hard luck (while admiring his uncensored view of the truth). But just as we know she’s a walking caricature, so too is he. Chester’s that man who holds an “End is Nigh” sign. He’s a man we willfully ignore if not to appease our own false altruism. We listen to his words and appreciate their sentiment right before dismissing him as a crackpot who can’t see the other side because of where he is. But his position wasn’t a choice. It was the product of the society we condone. And it takes less to become him than her.