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The Four Faces of Angie

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In 1957 Joanne Woodward made a movie called The Three Faces of Eve, which was based on the true story of a woman who had Multiple Personality Disorder. Woodward did amazing work in the movie, and deserved the Oscar she got for the part. We Americans are fascinated with people who have, or create, multiple identities for themselves, as the John Travolta/Nicolas Cage movie Face-Off shows. Matt Damon’s success in the Bourne trilogy attests to our continuing interest in the topic. Perhaps it’s because we Americans are less formed by history and tradition than, say, the French or the Italians.

And since we Americans have a hard time distinguishing between movies and what we call “real life,” we are intrigued by people who have multiple identities, or at least multiple public roles, such as actors turned politicians like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which brings us to the curious, and instructive, case of Angelina Jolie.

If we can resist being swept away by her regal glamour, we can wonder why people don’t despise her, both for her private and public lives. Whatever else she does, she will be known as the house wrecker, the Other Woman who stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston, who just happens to be America’s Sweetheart. Aniston’s all-American good looks mean that in a movie she’s the one who would wind up with the guy. But it didn’t work out that way.

Then, too, Jolie has allied herself with various good causes (more about that later), which might well have drawn the ire of at least a few conservative groups. The people who regularly denounce, say, Barbra Streisand have had little to say about Jolie, and this is the thing that needs to be explained.

Just think of all the similarities between Jolie and Jane Fonda. Both women began their careers as models, and are the daughters of famous, Oscar-winning actor fathers (John Voight, Henry Fonda) who then went on to win Oscars themselves. (Jolie won for Girl, Interrupted and Fonda won for both Klute and Coming Home.) Their relationships to their neglectful fathers determined a great deal about their lives. It was at least in part Fonda’s rebellion against her father that led her to become a social activist in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In 1972 she made her now infamous trip to Hanoi to show her support for the Viet Cong, a trip that earned her lasting enmity and the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”

As for Jolie, her difficult relationship with her father (and no doubt other factors as well) drew her to The Dark Side of the Force; she used to have pet snakes, supposedly collects knives, and is interested in, of all things, mortuary science. She is, or was—before she fell in love with Brad—bisexual. These factors seemed to be leading her to a life of public controversy like Fonda’s, and constituted the first of the public roles, or faces, that she presented to the world.

Like Fonda, she too went to Asia—to Cambodia, where part of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot. What Jolie found in Cambodia, and how she reacted to it, began to differentiate her from Fonda; without a conscious plan or intention, she began developing, and integrating, her second and third faces. We might call them the Private Earth Mother and the Public Earth Mother.

When Jolie appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, she told James Lipton that the horrors of the refugee camps in Cambodia made her realize that she hadn’t had it so bad after all. Apparently, something in her responded so deeply to the suffering she saw in Cambodia that her newfound compassion for the poor in Third World countries had a healing effect on her psyche. (Compassion is one of the most important virtues in Buddhism, so perhaps the fact that Cambodia is a Buddhist country had something to do with this.) While in Cambodia, Jolie became the Private Earth Mother by adopting a three-year-old Cambodian boy, to whom she gave the very un-Cambodian name of Maddox. She later adopted a child from Africa, and now has children of her own with Pitt, of course.

Like Fonda, Jolie became a social activist; unlike Fonda, she did so in a way that was beyond criticism. She wasn’t content to give her children a life in the lap of luxury; she publicly took up the cause of the refugees, and in August of 2001 was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Since the suffering of the refugees was truly horrible, and not directly the fault of the United States, no one could criticize her for her third face as Public Earth Mother.

It was her genuine love for her children, both adopted and birthed—her second and third faces—that muted the criticism of her fourth face, that of Home Wrecker. After Jolie stole Pitt from Aniston, a boutique in LA did a very California thing: it printed t-shirts that proclaimed “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie.” And the matter didn’t stop there. For its November, 2007 issue, W magazine printed an issue with multiple covers, including one featuring Jolie and one featuring Aniston. Although the Aniston t-shirts and Aniston W covers outsold the Jolie t-shirts and covers, people don’t go around saying that they hate Jolie, and blog on the Internet about how awful she is.

The key to understanding this intriguing fact, and indeed the key to understanding Jolie’s fame in general, is that her four faces create perfect balance. The people who might criticize her for her attraction to the Dark Side have to admit that she is a Private Earth Mother, a devoted mother to a large brood of children—the one virtue in a woman that trumps all others in America. (Then, too, after seeing her star turn as a long-suffering mother in The Changeling, people probably left the multiplex thinking, “Angenlina Jolie is a loving mother.”) The people on Team Aniston, who vastly outnumber the people on Team Jolie, can’t criticize her—at least not very tellingly—because of her face as a Public Earth Mother.

Although Jolie differentiated herself from Jane Fonda, with whom she shares so much, she also has affinities with someone whom she does resemble—Barack Obama. Both Jolie and Obama have exceptionally complex personalities, and have created balancing public faces. In this sense, they are the two dominant personalities of our time.

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