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Joaquin Phoenix has distinguished himself in a string of excellent roles since his 1995 breakthrough in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. This year he is a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for his outstanding performance as Commodus, the treacherous but all too human Roman emperor in Ridley Scott’s nomination dominator, Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe.

He also recently appeared in The Yards, co-starring Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron; and in Quills, as Abbe de Coulmier, a tormented priest who is the Marquis de Sade’s (Geoffrey Rush) rival for the affections of an enchanting laundress (Kate Winslet).

Astrology Horoscope: Joaquin PhoenixA Scorpio, Phoenix has used his craft to explore the slimy underbelly of conventional morality, perhaps to demonstrate how all sinners are merely pawns of their own temptation. His creative lifeline is based on identifying moral ambiguity and exposing the victim/perpetrator in everyone. In the simplest terms, he likes to show good people doing bad things.

Scorpio: Fixed Mars

“You are not the Antichrist. You are only a malcontent who knows how to spell.”

(Phoenix as Abbe de Coulmier in Quills, addressing the Marquis de Sade.)

Phoenix’s chart contains a significant concentration of planets in Scorpio. His Scorpio archetypes reflect the darkest elements of human behavior, contrasting will power with submission to personal demons.

Madeleine (Kate Winslet): “How can we know who is good and who is evil?”

Coulmier (Phoenix): “All we can do is guard against our own corruption.”

(Dialogue from Quills)

Scorpio’s relationship with this aspect of humanity extends from two specific astrological factors. First, is its traditional association, what is called rulership, with Mars, the planet of dissociate force and action. Secondly, it is a fixed sign (along with Taurus, Leo and Aquarius), a characterization (called a mode) which implies a deeply rooted, unchangeable nature.

Every sign has a ruling planet and belongs to one of three modes, the combination of which reflects the inherent characteristics of that sign. As a fixed Mars sign, Scorpio represents premeditated or compulsive types of action. The other Mars-ruled sign, Aries, is categorized in the cardinal mode and applies to instinctive or impulsive types of action. This distinction addresses many of Scorpio’s modern associations, such as jealousy, obsession and intrigue.

Not Morbid

“There are some things that you see, and you can’t unsee them.”

(Phoenix as Max California, the porno shop clerk in 8mm.)

Phoenix’s “Scorpionic” preoccupation with darkness is not morbid. In fact, it shows his awareness of its own purity and natural place in the balance of life. Scorpio’s dark side is an extension of the dissociating function of its ruling planet, Mars. Subjectively, this points to the more brutal levels of existence, conceptualized in terms of basic survival and human nature.

Max California (Phoenix): “There’s three rules in life: One, there’s always a victim; two, don’t be it.”

Thomas Wells (Nicolas Cage): “And three?”

Max California: “I forget what three is.”

(Dialogue from 8mm)

Phoenix has gone to great lengths to remind audiences of the more arbitrary aspects of judgment and justice, that persecution and prosecution can be so easily intertwined. His focus reveals profound insight into the complex web of circumstances involved when people commit offences of any kind. For instance, he has played a series of roles as someone who is forced to assume the full penalty for crimes committed either by, or with, others.

There is Jimmy Emmett in To Die For, whose primal teenage lust was manipulated by a psychotic older woman (Nicole Kidman) to murder her husband (Matt Dillon); Lewis McBride in Return to Paradise, the lone convict of an American trio of tourist buddies, unfairly sentenced to death in Malaysia for an exaggerated drug possession charge; and Clay Birdwell in Clay Pigeons, who got trapped in his own web of lies as the wrongly accused patsy of Vince Vaughan’s charming serial killer, Lester the Molester.

Commodus: Sympathy for the Devil

“He sleeps soundly because he is loved.”

(Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator, enviously referring to his sleeping nephew and heir, Lucius.)

In a thematic twist from previous roles, ruthless Commodus was solely responsible for his crimes. However, it was impossible not to sympathize with him, mainly because of the way Phoenix showed us how his motives were so universal. His delivery suggested that all any vicious dictator ever needed was to be loved, revealing a type of compassion on his part that is particular to Scorpio’s concerns.

Phoenix’s Scorpio Sun, which represents his individual “self,” is joined closely with Mars, his energy, and Venus, his values. As Mars rules Scorpio, it is considered to be stronger in its expression when placed in its own sign, effectively dominating this trio in influence. (Editor’s Note: Many modern astrologers use Pluto as the ruling planet of Scorpio but Mars is the traditional ruler.)

Adding to his Sun’s basic personality, it is his powerful Mars in Scorpio that emphasizes his expressive intensity. It essentially overpowers him, implying his willpower can be subject to a force stronger than his own, for better or worse. As an actor, this distinction is what allows him, as in the case of Commodus, to depict evil as the most human of qualities.

Men and Women: Three Is a Crowd

In astrology, Mars and Venus respectively represent men and women. Their interaction in a chart commonly refers specifically to gender relations. In Phoenix’s chart, Venus is placed between Mars and the Sun, mirroring a struggle that is repeatedly manifested in his work.

He has played many characters who are the odd man out in triangulated circumstances, usually between a woman and another man. It is often the “other” man who plays the stronger Mars role against Phoenix’s own Sun.

Adding to such previous examples as To Die For and Quills, there are several others, such as Doug Holt in Inventing the Abbotts, the sensitive loser of a fierce sibling competition (with Billy Crudup) for the attention of three sisters (including Liv Tyler); and Toby N. Tucker in U Turn, the smalltown roughneck defending his claim on Claire Danes against Sean Penn. He even followed this thread to a disturbing new level in Gladiator, as Commodus’ jealousy over Maximus (Russell Crowe) extended to his incestuous desire for his own sister.

The Oscar Club

Now acknowledged by the Academy, Phoenix’s newcomer status in this notoriously unpredictable category could easily work against him. However, Gladiator’s overwhelming total of twelve nominations could also help sweep him in on a wave to victory.

Poised to continue producing great work, he follows with Buffalo Soldiers, an account of the fall of the Berlin Wall, co-starring fellow nominee Ed Harris. Hopefully, the considerable acting potency in this Scorpio’s sting will keep him in good roles and movies for some time.

 

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Other StarIQ articles by Nick Dagan Best:

  • Seth Green Makes It Look Easy   5/14/2001
  • Ray Liotta: An Open Mind For Something Wild   4/24/2001
  • Ridley Scott Unleashes Hell   3/19/2001
  • Beck's Musical Lunaverse   2/18/2001
  • Fiona Apple: When Your Mind Is Your Might   2/16/2001
  • Julianne Moore Breaks the Silence   2/9/2001
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman: Fearless Actor   1/25/2001
  • Christina Ricci: Is Madness Too Glamorous?   12/28/2000
  • Frida Kahlo and Salma Hayek: Peas in a Pod or Saturn in Pisces?   11/30/2000

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