Give Benedict Cumberbatch an Oscar Already

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Give Benedict Cumberbatch an Oscar Already

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In the recently released Netflix Western, The Power of the Dog, there is a scene in which British star Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank is asked by his brother (played by Jesse Plemons) to bathe before he comes for the introductory dinner for his new wife. Phil who is a rancher by profession takes the suggestion poorly and turns up at the party as everybody is about to leave. He tells the guests he couldn’t come to the gathering as he wasn’t clean enough for it. He then goes on to insult his brother’s new wife (portrayed by a fabulous Kirsten Dunst) by sharing with all just how much she practiced playing the piano all week and yet got cold fingers in front of them.

Just one of the many brilliant scenes in the Jane Campion directed film that has earned Cumberbatch his second Oscar nomination. When those deep blue eyes stare into the screen, unblinking, unflinching, you wonder how cold can the character get only to realise it is a hard shell that covers a deeply vulnerable human.

Cumberbatch is to modern cinema a strange but beautiful cocktail – his angular face and steely expressions make for some odd but fascinating casting choices.

This might as well be the introduction to some of Cumberbatch’s most successful movie characters. Cumberbatch is to modern cinema a strange but beautiful cocktail – his angular face and steely expressions make for some odd but fascinating casting choices. So much so that while most Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes played by great actors of our time seem fairly direct in their intentions and actions, Cumberbatch’s Dr Stephen Strange goes beyond the scope of the superhero. His doctor is troubled, is lost, is found and is a superhero that saves the universe all at once – but not without losing himself a little bit, every time.

In Patrick Melrose, the 2018 British miniseries based on the series of novels by Edward St Aubyn, Cumberbatch plays the lead character of Melrose, a disdainful, arrogant addict who at first cannot get one ounce of audience’s empathy. Over five decades adapted into five episodes, we see Melrose’s childhood and youth play out and it becomes obvious what makes the adult such a torn, angry, cold character. One of his finest acting performances till date, Cumberbatch bagged a BAFTA award for his deeply flawed and pained performance. In The Imitation Game (2014), Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science and the legend who helped crack codes for England in WW II. While many actors get to act in biopics, it was the British actor’s portrayal of not just Turing’s genius but troubled sexuality and his consequent tragic end that added depth to an otherwise straightjacketed format of the wartime film.

His best may have come in his latest though. In The Power of The Dog, Cumberbatch plays a brilliant man who uses cruelty as a mask to hide a guarded secret.

His best may have come in his latest though. In The Power of The Dog, Cumberbatch plays a rich cowboy, a brilliant man who uses cruelty as a mask to hide a guarded secret. A closeted, lonely adult, he takes the route of brutality to deal with situations, especially those that go against his wish. A fantastic telling of a man’s story that is fuelled by toxic masculinity but is actually a front for a more humbling reveal about difficult secrets, the 45-year-old actor breaks the mould to make Phil Burbank his own. The Netflix hit has the actor in some precious scenes, like the one in which he lies naked under the sun and seems to make love to a handkerchief. In another, he plays the Banjo perfectly only to upset the piano playing attempts of an anxious Rose. He mocks a young man with feminine inclinations but by himself he submits to dreams and fantasies equally exotic.

Cumberbatch’s time may have finally come. An Oscar, would only be proof of his sustained brilliance, introducing us to a new form of masculinity altogether.

Even though Burbank is a menacingly masculine character he redeems himself in those moments of tenderness when a pained man gives into the whims of manufactured freedoms.  Cumberbatch has a thing for portraying troubled geniuses or at least men with a complicated interior. From the disturbed genius in Van Gogh: Painted with Words (2010) to the breakout series Sherlock (2010-17) his portrayal of a brilliant but ultimately misunderstood and lonely man brought a complexity to an age-old character. In BBC’s Frankenstein (2011) the actor plays both the doctor and the creature with ethereal finesse, something a lot of actors may aspire to but only a few can pull off.

In a world where content is being devoured at an unnatural pace, it is easy to be lost in the crowd of some good to sometimes-great actors. Cumberbatch on the other hand, whether it’s the rather simplistic Marvel Universe, the witty fun of playing a genius sleuth or simply a rancher trying to live two lives within the same body, Cumberbatch’s time may have finally come. An Oscar, would only be proof of his sustained brilliance, introducing us to a new form of masculinity altogether.

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