Frank Tames the Neanderthal
The themes of Chapter 3 are set at the very end of Chapter 2 as Frank leaves the office after a day of work at the Capitol. He spots a commotion at the door of the building where an alarmingly distraught, decrepit and half-naked homeless fellow, more beast than man, is handcuffed by police to a post. The man bellows at the top of his lungs, the primeval screams of a caveman, grunting with rage and a deeply profound sense of loss, despair and helplessness. I am immediately reminded of the last, and most famous, stanza from The New Colossus, a poem by Emma Lazarus forever emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This man is all of these things, only here he is caged and imprisoned, stopped just short of the “lamp” outside the “golden door” of Congress, a light he bathed in years ago a mere memory and the shimmering door that he cannot ever dream to enter for it is closed to those like him. He embodies all of us, protesting, shouting, fighting and churning against one another and our selves. Battling the surrounding and growing malaise of ideologies pushing Americans apart and alienating them from one another. Money, jobs, the rich, taxes, war, guns, the environment, corruption and power. A lack of real progress on all of these fronts, and the radicalization of a polarized nation, is devolving us back to Neanderthal man. While those in the hallways of influence and prominence barely glance our way, meeting in their secret rooms and making their ‘representative’ decisions on the behalf of their ‘constituents’. He is broken and be-grieved by an ailment of some sort that is pitted somewhere between his broken soul and an afterlife that no longer exists. So deep that he is unable to speak comprehensible human words or fathom what is necessary to articulate the wrong he’s been wronged. Even if he could it probably wouldn’t matter, so why not just rage and howl at it all.
Those around can only watch, except for Frank who stoically approaches him and kneels down to say:
“No one can hear you. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will come of this. Why don’t you let these nice gentlemen take you home.”
Kevin Spacey delivers these words almost directly to camera from the POV of the homeless man. But the implicit design of this shot and the delivery of the line is such that we can’t be sure he’s not breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to us. Perhaps the homeless Neanderthal is implicitly meant to be us, silent and quieted by the mere haunting stare of a man, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln, “clothed in immense power” but also an uncaring heart. Only, unlike the inspiring beat delivered by Daniel Day Lewis’ performance, Spacey delivers these lines quietly, hauntingly, like a broken soul speaking from a horrifying and carnal honesty that is purifying in its clarity and cruelty. He is not being vindictive or taunting, there seems to be a remorse in his face and his voice. He has seen how things really work and can only say to the teeming masses, represented by this destroyed creature in the night, that nobody cares and that all the shouting in the world will get you no where. Frank might be aware of the irony that it is he who should be handcuffed to a pole and stripped of his dignity. Instead, Frank stands face to face with the product of his plotting and scheming for power. Perhaps he is peering fearfully into the looking glass, which reflects an alternate universe where he is nothing and nobody. Likewise, Neanderthal man peers back from the other side, seeing that the more “evolved” version of himself, Frank, is not any less barbaric or helpless.
Frank rises and follows up with yet another early reference to the harsh DC winter:
“Cover ‘em up, it’s cold out here.”
The scene evokes such a sense of operatic and poetic gravitas, one can’t help but be tremendously moved by it. It’s simply constructed, edited and written, as well as performed with ease and pitch perfect timing by Spacey and Parker Webb. It’s thoughtful, seemingly innocuous scenes like these that draw the audience in to deep places, unnerving and uncomfortable, and which elevates the artistic and sociopolitical merits of House of Cards.