The Last Circus (2011)
Because clowns aren’t terrifying enough.
The Last Circus is about the son of a happy clown who stands by as his father gets recruited for the Spanish Civil War as a machete-wielding killing machine. But when his Pops gets captured and killed by the opposing Franco regime, the kid heeds his father’s final words to pursue a career as a sad clown due to all the horrors he’s endured. So the kid grows up, joins a traveling circus as the resident sad clown, and quickly falls head-over-heels for a gorgeous acrobat who’s married to the resident abusive happy clown. The more the sad clown tries to win her over and the more she leads him on, the more he puts his life and sanity at risk with each time she goes back to the sad clown. Eventually he straight-up snaps and starts using an iron as a makeup kit when he’s not shooting up diners, but that’s what happens when you mess with the sad clown.
Oh yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. I’m sure many of you might be wondering what would compel a person to watch something like this on their own free will, but my hope is that there’s at least one other curious soul can understand the strange fascination that comes with a movie about homicidal circus clowns. From the day I first witnessed its unforgettably wacko trailer, I knew this was a movie worth seeking out because there’s no way in hell that I’d seen anything like it. And in that sense, it delivered.
Now, I’ve been to Madrid and I’ve been to Barcelona. With the exception of the crushing revelation that 99% of people who go to nude beaches do not belong on nude beaches, those were some pretty awesome towns. That’s about the extent of what I know about Spain, but if this is writer/director Alex de la Iglesia’s idea of reflecting on his homeland’s dark past, I think I should start doing my homework. But all the same, it’s hard to watch something like this and walk away thinking about the political metaphors. When you make a movie about killer clowns, it’s hard to make it about anything else.
Folks, this is an exercise in insanity. Just thinking about it has me shaking my head in stunned confusion over the way things played out and the extremes that were went to in such a short amount of time. I mean, I’ve never had my heart broken by a girl, but I don’t think I’d react to the news by maiming her abusive boyfriend in the nude, escaping into the woods to live off raw deer, and then offing everyone in sight because a vision of my dead dad told me to. I’ll only say it once more, but this movie is strange. Not that there’s anything wrong with strange, but too strange can pose some problems.
It’d be one thing if the sad clown in question was already on the edge and just waiting for that extra push to send him flying, but the situation here is more like going from stressed out to Charlie Manson because you got played by the hot girl at work. Yes, work can be awfully stressful some days and sometimes bitches be crazy, but that’s an awfully rash transition to undergo in a mere matter of hours. As entertaining as it is to watch this fool act on every batshit impulse that comes into his head, it was mostly aggravating to watch him do it so quickly without any kind of natural buildup.
But the weirdest thing about this movie is that it’s a Spanish soap opera at heart. I don’t know about you, but even in my native English, soap operas are just one thing I will never understand. The melodrama, the overacting, the broken hearts, the mind games – it’s a perfect storm of shit I can’t tolerate and The Last Circus wasn’t doing itself any favors in that regard. In a nutshell, the first half of the movie goes exactly like this:
Sad clown falls for happy clown’s wife. Happy clown beats the tar out of his wife. Makeup sex ensues, sad clown is sad. Happy clown’s wife flirts with sad clown. Sad clown gets his hopes up and falls for happy clown’s wife all over again. Sad clown goes on date with happy clown’s wife and tells her to run away with him. Happy clown finds out and beats the tar out of his wife. Makeup sex ensues, sad clown is sad.
Rinse, wash, repeat until the sad clown goes bananas. Jesus, this thing is all over the place and repetitive to boot. But I did love the way de la Iglesia incorporated music into the story and the early scenes between the sad clown and the happy clown are really, really good. It’s too bad things go down the way they do, because the potential was there for something really effing memorable.
The other upside is that the performances are surprisingly good, which is as unexpected as anything else this movie has to offer. Carlos Areces is particularly well cast as the sad clown, Javier, and the same goes for the gorgeous Carolina Bang (given name?) as the happy clown’s wife, Natalia. Not that I was taking it seriously in the first place, but I was still pretty impressed with how the cast threw themselves into their totally gonzo roles.
This is the only movie of de la Iglesia’s that I’ve seen, but word on the street is that they’re all this ridiculous. It’s like a remake of La Strada…by Robert Rodriguez. I really wanted to like The Last Circus more than I did, but even with the political undertones, it’s tough to say what I was supposed to gain from this. Don’t fuck with clowns? No shit and roger that. In its defense, this does have the makings of a cult classic going for it, and cult classics aren’t always appreciated to their fullest on the first go-around. If you’ve read this far and you’re still grinning over the premise, then by all means give it a whirl. Gotta respect movies that exist way outside the realm of “normalcy,” and that regard, this movie is a 10.