I love an Andrea Long Chu book review. We linked to her piece on Hanya Yanagihara’s writing back in January and she articulated everything that frustrated me about reading A Little Life and her most recent book To Paradise. And it’s not that I necessarily agree with Andrea about everything, it’s just that she herself is such a great writer, I often just read her reviews for the review without any interest in the book or the author.
So I just finished her latest for Vulture a few days ago – a review of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Lapnova and as usual, Andrea knew how to hook me: by writing about Ottessa Moshfegh’s preoccupation with sh-t. As in what comes out of your ass. Sh-t is also my obsession…so I savoured every word, as disgusting as that sounds, and then when I was done I read it again, grateful as usual to Andrea for her work but also way more invested in Ottessa Moshfegh than I’ve ever been before; I’ve not read any of her novels but have read a few short stories from her collection Homesick for Another World.
And then Ottessa Moshfegh’s name showed up in the byline for the new GQ cover story on Brad Pitt. As usual, the writer is what makes the piece. Ottessa is an acclaimed award-winning author and I wish I knew how this was pitched. Was it the magazine that came up with the idea of having her write the profile? Was it a suggestion that came from Brad’s team? Because even though he’s been able to convince the MiniVan Majority that he’s not one of the most media-savvy and manipulative movie stars in the business who has curated his image as meticulously as an Instagram influencer shapes their social media presentation, the fact is he plays that game at the highest level. Brad Pitt is as cunning as a Kardashian. And he 100% benefits from this piece in GQ written by Ottessa Moshfegh because it gives him all kinds of cred in that world.
Look at how Brad is vibing with this literary superstar, exchanging Rumi quotes and namechecking Rilke and Einstein, citing the works of renowned artists like David Hockney and Charles Ray. It’s a true meeting of minds! But also… he’s still pure Midwest, still a salt-of-the-earth dude from the Ozarks who works with his hands, who connects by touch, who stays grounded by literally feeling the ground and never thinking he’s above the dirt.
This is Brad Pitt participating in and performing to his own mythology. We are told – through the various people he’s worked with, like Quentin Tarantino and Flea – that he’s the coolest motherf-cker in the business, a consummate Movie Star, a real classic, with a timeless appeal. But not too cool to talk about what I consider to be the most boring subject matter: his dreams or rather his recurring nightmare, which involves being chased and stabbed. And definitely not too cool to reveal that he thinks he has face blindness, which is apparently mortifying to him because as cool as everyone describes him to be, he’s actually not standoffish, he wants to meet people and get to know them, the real them. That’s the foundation of the Brad Pitt mythology – he is one of Hollywood’s most enduring golden gods…but he walks among us. Every time he shows up in GQ, and it last happened five years ago, it services that mythology.
In 2017 he talked about the “façade” and there is no façade with no performance. He is, after all, an actor – and an Oscar-winning one now. But even that award might not do justice to how good he actually is at performance, and not just when the cameras are on. This is how Ottessa Moshfegh ends her piece, brilliantly, by coming back around to how she started it (Brad’s snore of a dream) and making magic out of nothing, the way the best writers do – telling you everything you need to know about him, and more than he actually ever intended:
“When Pitt and I were sitting together by the fire, he said something profound: “I am a murderer. I’m a lover. I have the capacity for great empathy and I can devolve into pettiness.” One might say that in dreams we can be anyone, feel anything, go anywhere. We are like actors in a movie of our own making, and we watch the film alone at night, in the dark. If we truly want to understand ourselves, we ought to take notes.”
To read Ottessa Moshfegh’s profile of an “actor in a movie of [his] own making”, head to GQ.