Brush off your cultural studies notebooks, it’s time for an ethical quandary. James Dean — the young Rebel Without a Cause actor and lesbian icon who died in a sports-car accident in 1955 — will star in a Vietnam War drama called Finding Jack in 2020. Sort of. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Dean has been “posthumously cast” in the film, which will be directed and independently produced by filmmakers–cum–mad scientists Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh. Spooky! To be clear, “Dean’s performance will be constructed via ‘full body’ CGI using actual footage and photos. Another actor will voice him.” This isn’t the first instance of a CGI-rendered posthumous performance in a film, although high-profile examples like Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Star Wars were of course for characters they had already played and consented to, not entirely original productions. We do wonder how effective an actor’s portrayal of the unique traumas of the Vietnam War could even be when he died a month before it began.
Director Ernst stated: “We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean.” So what can the urgent plot of Finding Jack be that it requires tampering with the laws of nature and reviving the dead, Frankenstein-like, out of pieced-together footage? Glad you asked. It’s based on a sappy heart-warmer about a soldier finding his lost yellow Lab.
The filmmakers say they have Dean’s family’s blessing, but what they really mean is, they have the blessing of their rep Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, who stated: “This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.” Now that’s what I call dystopia!
Is James Dean immortal? Of course. But immortal in the “immortalized in lyrics by Taylor Swift and Hilary Duff” sense. Surely, Finding Jack raises questions of agency: Who has the right to the iconography of the star image? Does James Dean as a figure of modern American mythology belong to the public? To his estate? To Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide? What sort of unholy curse will this tampering with the dead summon unto the multiplex? For something so dark-sided to be worth it, that yellow Lab better be really, really cute.