Suspended between two Volvo trucks, a wrinkled, fissured Jean-Claude Van Damme races the twilight backwards.
The Epic Split is an advertisement for Volvo trucks, viewed over sixty-seven million times.
Jennifer Arellano of Entertainment Weekly says, “Any ad that can incite a whoa!, to wah!, to WTF?, is a winner in my book.”
Camera tight on the closed eyes of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Where is he? On a boat? Atop a train? His voice enters: “I’ve had my ups and downs, my fair share of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what made me what I am today.”
In 1993’s Hard Target, Van Damme plays “‘ragin’ Cajun’ Chance Boudreaux,” a silent type who gets on the wrong side of “a cadre of villains” who “hunt humans…for evil kicks.” In the ﬁlm, he drops a grenade down a guy’s pants then headbutts him into a pile of pompoms. He shoots a thirty-aught-six while riding a giant carnival bird. He punches a rattlesnake then bites off its rattle.
Van Damme is now ﬁfty-three. Time has cracked his armor, pocked his skin, knocked him to the mat, as in his 1988 ﬁlm Bloodsport, when the villain throws chalk in his eyes. He kicks at the air, no longer able see his opponent.
Theodor Adorno says, “The maturity of the late works of important artists is not like the ripeness of fruit. As a rule, these works are not well rounded, but wrinkled, even ﬁssured…they are products of a subjectivity…a ‘personality’ ruthlessly proclaiming itself.”
In 2008’s JCVD, Van Damme plays himself. He stumbles on a bank robbery in progress and is taken hostage. On the verge of death and worried no one knows the truth about him, he levitates out of the scene, pouring regret into the camera in his native French. “Why all the privileges? I’m just a regular guy. It makes me sick to see people who don’t have what I’ve got, knowing that they have qualities, much more than I do.” He continues, in tears, “I still ask myself today what I’ve done on this earth. Nothing! I’ve done nothing!”
A “one last score” movie follows a veteran jewel thief, aging sheriff, etc. Once a young man, our hero is out of the game. Duty and circumstance force him to put his legacy on the line one last time. “Does he still got it?” But what is it and how does one know if it’s gone?
At the Firestone in Hadley, Massachusetts, I wait while a mechanic replaces the exhaust hangers on my 2002 Volvo V70. The waiting area TV plays The Rundown, a one last score movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A customer and another mechanic, both around Van Damme’s age, strike up a conversation. “I heard The Rock has bodyguards.” “Really? Well, I know Schwarzenegger does,” leading to a debate on toughness. “Seagal. I don’t know, he looks tough but—“ “Stallone. I bet he’s pretty tough.” “Somebody like Jet Li, wouldn’t want to mess with him.” “I heard when Van Damme was doing cocaine somebody knocked him out.” “You ever ﬁght a guy?” “Ah, not since high school.” “Yeah. You never know what you’re getting into.”
Van Damme opens his eyes. The violins of Enya’s New Age hit “Only Time” ﬁll the air.
The voiceover continues: “Now, I stand here before you. What you see is a body crafted to perfection, a pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics.”
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of ﬁxing pottery with gold lacquer. One ﬁts pieces back together and ﬁlls the cracks with gold, making the pot “more beautiful for having been broken.”
The camera pulls away, revealing Van Damme straddling two golden 18-wheelers. As if cued by a conductor’s baton, the trucks drift apart. Van Damme’s torso lowers as Enya sings, “Who can say where the road goes? / Where the days ﬂow? / Only time.”
Adorno insists it is the personality of the beleaguered artist, the time, the chalk in the eyes, “which forces together the extremes within the moment, charging the compressed polyphony with its tensions, disintegrating and escaping it in unison, leaving behind the naked note.”
Dave Gefﬁn of the site FStoppers says, “Like the best commercials, we are left with a sense of awe, wonder, and amazement at what we’ve just seen.”
The Volvo trucks drive in reverse as though rewinding time with Van Damme suspended between them, racing twilight backwards.