Lenny Nero from Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days has to take a special place in any gallery of anti-heroes. This guy is the case-study of a wimp. Former LAPD vice squad cop he spends the last days of the 1999 in an almost apocalyptic version of LA peddling illicit SQUID - or Playback - disks to all those looking for the ultimate thrill.
Lenny has the best line in the business,
"I'm your priest, your shrink, your main connection to the switchboard of souls. I'm the Magic Man, the Santa Claus of the Subconscious."
He leans over and croons into a client's ear in a silky-smooth voice. You can see he is in his element.
He is the perfect pusher because he is not just out to make a buck, well, he is, but he is also a believer. He truly believes he has a ticket to heaven, and he is hustling his wary client to buy it.
Lenny Nero can be utterly selfish and exploitative. He will call his friend Mace, a struggling mother and a cabbie, at any time of day and night to drive him on his rounds.
She despises what he does but at the same time she is so hopelessly in love with him that she will put up with any crap he lays on her. She will take a beating, risk her job, her family and her life for Lenny.
Above all, Lenny is a junkie. He has his own collection of Playback disks with recorded memories of his ex, Faith.
At night he puts them on and indulges in the fragments of happier times. They go in-line skating, Faith teases him to catch her, he falls over...Lenny's face glows with bliss as he makes caressing motions in the air with his hand.
These are the moments when we see Lenny Nero at his most pathetic and yet we can't help sympathizing with him. His sadness, and his love for Faith, are the few real things about him, everything else, his brash clothes, his trade mark ties, his Rolex watches, his suitcase, it all comes with the territory.
Lenny got hustling down to a fine art. And yet for all the appearances, Lenny often comes across as a babe in the woods.
It is like we see two different persons, one is a professional hustler, slick and street-savvy, and the other a helpless washout so totally out of his depth while pursuing clues that will ultimately lead him to confrontation with his demons.
His greatest weakness is his love for Faith. His devotion to her, his unwillingness to let her go, is a study in self-abuse. He pleads with her, he begs her, he worships at her feet, believing, perhaps rightly, that she still loves him. But he can't see one simple thing - she is not worth it.
She is just as exploitative as him. Perhaps even more. He uses people for small favors, money, shelter, whereas she feds off other people's emotions, their adoration and desire. If he is a leech, she is a vampire.
Feckless as he is, Lenny has preserved a shred of human dignity. He will in the end overcome his weaker self. He will, with a help of Mace, do the right thing. But before that he will undergo a dreadful ordeal. He will perhaps for the first time in his life go all the way down the dark street - something he craves and shuns at once. All his vicarious chickens will come home to roost. And the man who pretends to be a disk jockey of souls will be taken for a heck of a ride.
The scene, one of the last in Strange Days, when the mirrors, real and imaginary, break to pieces around him remains one of the most compelling metaphors of Lenny Nero. The man whose namesake, the mad emperor, sang and danced, blind to all, while the world came crashing down around him.
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