‘Red Rocket’: Reimagining Donald Trump’s journey to the White House if he were a porn star

Sean Baker’s new movie is an uncomfortable parable of the American dream

Simon Rex in Red Rocket.
Simon Rex in Red Rocket.

Having filmed Tangerine (2015) with three iPhones and worked with Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project (2017), indie filmmaker Sean Baker premiered his indie film Red Rocket at Cannes in July last year.

Red Rocket stars Mikey, a porn actor who returns to his hometown of poor white people, struggling in the slums of a Texas now in decline. Mikey is just passing through and he is shunned by everyone as he prepares a springboard for further glory.

While promoting the film, Baker explained he is interested in the humorous portrayal of the people who have been left out of history.

But is that what’s happening in Red Rocket? There’s some speculation that the film is actually about Donald Trump, with the porn actor’s journey in the film a kind of Trojan horse for recounting Trump’s race for the White House.

“Let’s talk about it,” Baker said with an air of confession.

Sean Bake (r) directs Simon Rex in ‘Red Rocket.’
Sean Bake (r) directs Simon Rex in ‘Red Rocket.’

Baker, who hired real-life porn actor Simon Rex, to bring Mikey to life on screen, says there is a pertinent comparison between some politicians and porn actors. Both can have a certain “egomania” and “self-adulation,” from “living in very closed, competitive worlds where they only hear praise, and one only survives by destroying rivals,” said Baker.

“As for Trump, it’s true,” added the filmmaker, acknowledging that Red Rocket has many clues that it shares a trajectory with the 43rd US President’s journey. Trump was laughed at before facing off against Hillary Clinton while Mikey has a similar dynamic with his ex-wife. The porn star in Red Rocket uses bravado to corral money and support for his goals, an obnoxious charm that seems to work as it did for Trump.

“Politics is the art of relationships, and that also applies to work, family and social connections. I accept the parallel with Trump, though I think Red Rocket goes further.”

“Porn acting is full of guys who are true survivors, living in a state of feverish euphoria,” Baker continued. “I contend that they can be the stars of great stories, such as about a transgender person who earns their living from sex work inside a capitalist society that celebrates financial success.”

Simon Rex and Suzanna Son in ‘Red Rocket.’
Simon Rex and Suzanna Son in ‘Red Rocket.’

“After Starlet, I wrote the first draft of Red Rocket.”

The film has been polarizing in the United States. Simon Rex won the award for best actor at the Independent Spirit Awards, but Baker said people have approached him saying they found the film “quite disturbing.”

The filmmaker said he is happy about these comments, as part of his artistic intention with the film was to provoke complex feelings about an egotistical porn star on a journey to the top.

When the film showed at Cannes, he said he feared being attacked on social media, as the film portrays “moral misery and a reprehensible way of approaching life through a masculine gaze.” In the end, however, no such attacks occurred.

Of Trump and Mikey, Baker said they are both “great storytellers, hypnotic to the point of becoming tiresome,” both men “who don’t take no for an answer.”

They are “narcissistic, and at the same time unaware of the effect they have on those around them.”

Indeed, Trump’s bid to be elected president was an electoral campaign camouflaged as a trash TV show – both forms in which “only those who master the language can win.”

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