Jonathon Sharkey has a dream. It’s a typically American dream, and because it involves long odds, hard roads, and swimming against the proverbial tide, the first few moments of W. Tray White’s documentary could very well inspire even the most hardened political observer. Sharkey, you see, wants to be the Governor of Minnesota. It’s 2006, the war in Iraq is less popular than ever, change is in the air, and maybe, just maybe, in the same state that once sent Jesse Ventura to power, those quirky voters could once again buck tradition and sprinkle a little independence in the garden of predictability. It’s a script that practically cries out for Jimmy Stewart. Unfortunately, at least from the perspective of anyone who believed the man actually had a chance to win, Mr. Sharkey just happens to be a Satanic vampire. Who is sexually involved with his half-sister. And whose entire platform consists of believing he has the Constitutional right to execute anyone he wishes, especially those who have personally wronged him. And, as the title of the film so conveniently informs us, he’s known as “The Impaler.” What could go wrong? Ain’t this America?
Predictably, the film is less a journey through the gauntlet of political warfare than the onscreen unraveling of a genuine psychopath, the sort of man who, from the very first interview (and there were many after his bizarre announcement), appears on the verge of a very messy suicide. It’s not just that he’s fond of discussing his blood-filled diet, or even demonstrating how he rips at his own arm like a starving pit bull and offers it to his hungry female companion as if passing the stuffing at Thanksgiving; it’s his glassy-eyed, incoherent rambling that betrays the tortured madman within. As such, I waited patiently for the revelations to fall like bitter rain. After all, whenever we catch a snippet of a seemingly “private” phone call where the subject roars at his family with Jake LaMotta-like rage, or listen to a monologue about his otherwise unmotivated hatred of everything in, around, and throughout the state of Indiana (he calls it Iraqiana), we know we’re about to see a title card announcing a buried molestation charge. Indeed, Sharkey was raped by his father. As if that wasn’t enough to begin the tailspin, his mother threw him down a flight of stairs, a process that ended with a full body cast and years of pain. So what if Sharkey first told us he simply “fell.” Despite the favorable press, few come to Satan through good times and well-adjusted upbringings.
So while at first we might have been impatient with the smirking commentators (Tucker Carlson among them) who used their camera time to mock the poor man for his religious beliefs rather than actually find out what he stood for, it’s only a brief interlude until the rubber hits the room. From the wife (technically an “ex-”, though he won’t grant a divorce) who says he’s better known as “Rocky Adonis Flash” to the right-field lightning strike that he has a background in wrestling, the hits pile up so quickly that we half expect his kids to come forward with tales of humiliation and despair. Which they do. It seems dear old dad once choked his daughter and held a knife to her throat, which might have been excusable if he didn’t also dress like a woman, complete with a bra stuffed to the gills not with tissue, but honest-to-goodness man-boobs. Jonathon’s also wanted in Indiana on numerous charges including stalking, and it seems fitting that he’s arrested mere minutes after completing one of his typically surreal interviews. And, as if on cue, we learn that he once faked his own death, using his female “character” to send out emails to stunned friends and relatives. I’d like to think the whole ruse was simply to get out of paying taxes or something, but it appears he genuinely loves being a chick.
Down we go, further and further into this tale of garden variety insanity, when we are hit with the fact that the woman we think is a half-sister is nothing of the sort, and this “Kat” chick is actually Jonathon himself, so named because he wanted to resurrect the memory of his long dead sister. And through it all — the restraining orders, neck biting, and humorless rants about using the term “cloak” instead of the more pedestrian “cape” — we are left wondering why this creep fest was even made, as the tone never decides whether or not it is pro-exploitation or simply a commentary on our national obsession with fame. The latter is too obvious to warrant yet another self-righteous narrative, but at no point was a perspective given. Neither was a literal point of view, as half the film occurs in the sort of shadow that might be mistaken for a dark closet. We hear Mr. Sharkey, but where the hell is he? Fine, you can certainly use a cheap camcorder for a film few will see outside of the festival circuit, but whatever happened to the light of day? Add to that the frequent (and annoying) subtitle misspellings that ranged from the pathetic to the embarrassing, and you have an amateur hour that doesn’t even have the decency to be consistently hilarious. Sure, I chuckled a bit when the director interviewed a Sharkey son in front of a yard overrun with toilets, but the titters quickly vanished in favor of the discomfort one usually finds in a rambling essay about nothing in particular.
Maybe all we’re meant to be left with is the notion that naked ambition is quite frequently a mask for volcanic self-loathing, but even that’s too easy. Sure, politics is in fact show business for ugly people, but is the lust for power so inextricably tied to a deep-seated desire for personal revenge? Is it as much about “showing them” as craving a privileged perch by which to enact unimpeded justice? After all, Sharkey seems unconcerned about the possible resistance to his illegal executions, or even his rewards for those who committed crimes in our country’s name while serving in combat. But at the moment we think he’s Stalin in a Meatloaf wig, he’s browsing Home Depot for an impaling post. Even his expected training in the black arts is so inept that he’s utterly baffled by the task at hand. What’s left is less an instrument of torture than the beginnings of that long delayed fence repair. And, as if in need of a dash of credibility, the movie spends a good five minutes with old wrestling friends, now broken and battered mountain men, who love to show off the moves, though they’re not about to vote for a guy who doesn’t love Jesus. Maybe that will come when Jonathon runs for president, which the film announces did in fact occur in 2008. We’re even treated to a campaign commercial of sorts. I’m still waiting for the concession.