With his presence alone, Michael Shannon has that rare ability to immediately creep out moviegoers. He knows that you’re uncomfortable with his peering eyes, pursed lips, and slow manner of speech. Moreover, Shannon’s most troubled characters understand that people recognize aspects of themselves within the character. And as a performer, Shannon understands that his movie persona can easily be applied to everyday situations, evidenced by an infamous Funny or Die clip from 2013, in which he reads aloud a letter written by a hilariously angry sorority member. Just in time for the Shan-Man’s birthday, here are a few characters that translate to you, me, and everybody we know.
Peter Evans in Bug (2006): The Domestic Fear-Mongerer
In this underrated gem, Shannon enters the narrative by stating that he’s “not an axe murderer.” Sure, maybe that’s not the most traditional pick-up line—but hey, Ashley Judd’s Agnes doesn’t mind and proceeds to tickle his fancy. From a 2018 perspective, Peter Evans is your traditional fear-mongerer, a man that’s probably more interested in binging the History Channel than making friends. He’s a legit conspiracy theorist and believes that bugs are out to get him, along with the government. And what’s most horrifying about his slow descent into madness is that it rubs off on Agnes. All they needed was a little sunlight—instead, they lose sight of reality, facts, and what initially brought them together: day drinking and basic conspiracy talk (you know, nothing crazy).
Greg Buehl in 8 Mile (2002): The Tipsy Social Media Scroller
Before Facebook and Twitter users learned how to communicate their resentment with snarky posts, there were people like Shannon’s character, Greg, in 8 Mile. In that movie, Greg scoffs at Eminem’s Jimmy and chooses his words carefully for maximum impact. At first, like so many tipsy social media scrollers, Greg observes with skepticism. Then, he finds temporary joy by systematically destroying any happiness that he detects. In other words, he’s the person that’s less concerned about personal connections and more interested in projecting negatives vibes. You’ve been there. I’ve been there. Greg is somewhere out there, pissed off and half in the bag.
John Givings in Revolutionary Road (2008): The Overly Concerned Loudmouth Acquaintance
When Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, respectively) plan a permanent move to Paris, John Givings arrives in their home, to provide some clarity. At first, he’s poetic with his communication, so much so, that the couple acknowledges his way with words. But when the friendship dynamic shifts, and John uses his intellect to pry and analyze unresolved matters, he’s unable to shut his big yapper. Okay, maybe Frank and April have some issues, but those issues are their business.
Curtis LaForche in Take Shelter (2011): The Human Las Vegas Hangover
This Shannon character doesn’t have an alcohol hangover, per se—he is the hangover. After experiencing horrific dreams, Curtis slowly derails while his friends and family watch the train wreck with confusion. Imagine your first trip to Vegas: Poor time management and probably a few apologies, right? In Take Shelter, Curtis literally speaks the words “it’s not just a dream, it’s a feeling.” Sadly, he’s also the guy that pukes in public, wildly states that “a storm is coming” and then cries. But here’s the thing: The Vegas hangover doesn’t last forever. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
Bobby Andes in Nocturnal Animals (2016): The Alter Ego Wingman
It’s difficult to find a good wingman or wingwoman—you know, a life partner. Just ask Jake Gyllenhaal’s Tony Hastings, a jilted lover who writes a self-serving book, featuring a well-meaning but slightly crazy detective named Bobby Andes. Yes, Tony created a fictional wingman, a character with nothing left to live for, and conveniently capable of justifying any and all questionable methods of taking revenge. As with so many Shannon characters, a distorted sense of truth leaves the audience looking inward, and questioning whether they should believe that persistent voice in their head.
As you can see, Shannon is within all of us.