Genius often erupts in strange packages, a notion personified in Mr. Turner, the biopic of iconic 19th century English painter J.M.W. Turner. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, the movie explores the quotidian behavior of the portly, trundling Turner (Timothy Spall), a most ordinary-looking individual with a jutting lower lip who, somehow, through his artistic calling, became a conduit for ethereal painterly expression that transcended his physical inspirations.
In addition to Spall’s masterful performance – he inhabits rather than acts – the highlight of Mr. Turner is Leigh’s ongoing contrast between the man’s disciplined daily rituals and the otherworldly essence of his output.
Turner often grunts rather than speaks; has a stooped loyal mistress-housekeeper, Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson), with whom he ruts at will; suffers a demanding ex-mistress (Ruth Sheen); and deal withs backstabbers and gossipers within his community of fellow artists. When he leaves the house, often for the coastal town of Margate with his long rectangular leather satchel to seek fodder that will eventually be put onto canvas, he could just as well be heading out to his day job which, in fact, he is. A scene in which he rides out a ferocious storm on a ship – tied to the mast and evoking Ulysses’ solution to resist the Sirens’ lure – signals just how far he’s willing to go to experience nature’s ferocious expressiveness that he can later transmute into something mystically riveting.
Archetypally, Mr. Turner effortlessly shifts between a Saturnine focus on time-managed self-mastery and pragmatic earthiness and a Neptunian transcendence achieved through art. When Turner connects with Sophie (Marion Bailey), an age-appropriate companion and romantic interest, Leigh seems to suggest that a genuine Saturn-Neptune connection – dreams made real – is within everyone’s grasp.
Mr. Turner is, in the end, about both ordinariness and the mundane as it applies to a man and his day-to-day affairs over the span of 25 years, as well as that instinctive last-minute well-placed blotch of color knowingly laid onto a painting that alters the observer’s gaze, as well as the mindset of the creator.
Looking to explore a bit of art therapy? Mr. Turner does wonders.
Archetype: Pragmatist, Artist, Boor, Mystic
Astrology Archetype: ♄ ♆ (Saturn, Neptune)