Triumph of the Hare

Is “The Tortoise and the Hare” a tale of unlikely victory; or that of squandered talent? This is my weird fanboy love letter to Robert Downey Jr.

For many children, their introduction to the concept of an "underdog" comes from the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. In the tale, a speedy but arrogant hare is bested by the slow moving but persistent tortoise in a foot race. It’s supposed to be a happy story, depicting an unlikely triumph. It encourages children to achieve through hard work and not just rely on their raw talents.

Personally, I think that the story of The Tortoise and the Hare is quite sad. The hare possesses innate speed and an easy victory eluded him because he couldn’t get out of his own way. Of course, it’s all imaginary.

Here’s a story from real life. It was the year 2001 and Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ) was awarded a Golden Globe for his performance on the television show "Ally McBeal". He stood at the podium holding his prize and gave thanks. A few months earlier, RDJ’s victory was very unlikely. But, he was no underdog; he was not some determined tortoise steadily sputtering towards a finish line. RDJ was the acting equivalent of an athletic hare with the finest running shoes and a personal trainer. His victory was improbable only because he had difficulty staying out of his own way. Substance abuse and a stint in jail had nearly destroyed his life and career.

I was 18 years old at the time and like many people, I was happy for him. It was a feel good story and a second chance for a talented individual. He had learned his lesson, he would never squander his talents again, or so we hoped.

But, not long after the Golden Globe celebration, RDJ found himself in trouble once again. His character was hastily written off of Ally McBeal and his promising second chance had come to an abrupt and embarrassing end.

Viewing his mugshot was on the news was depressing and I instantly found myself hoping that RDJ would get a third chance. It’s somewhat strange to feel such sympathy for a wealthy, handsome leading man who went from an Oscar nomination in the early 90s to a jail cell in 1996. In truth, he could only blame himself. Seeing a person fall can make us feel equal or even superior. I guess it is a part human nature to desire an even playing field.

I know it's difficult to believe, but in 2001, I thought RDJ would be perfectly cast as my favorite comic book character, Iron Man. Tony Stark, Iron Man's secret identity, had his own exceptional talents, but would often let alcohol or his own hubris hinder his progress. Also, on a superficial level, RDJ looked the part. He was just a mustache away from becoming Tony.

I did a double take when I saw that RDJ had been cast in the lead role of Tony Stark in 2006 for Marvel Studios’ first film. When the film was released in 2008, America fell in love with RDJ all over again and it launched a juggernaut film studio.

The new Spider-Man movie was released this weekend, and I enjoyed watching RDJ portray Tony Stark for a 7th time (8 if you count the post-credit scene in the Incredible Hulk)! Spoiler Alert: The heroes win in the end — but, I never get tired of watching RDJ display his super powers.