WRITTEN BY: ELLEN HUANG | CONTRIBUTOR
Eccentric actor Shia LaBeouf has come a long way from mischievous scheming in Disney Channel series “Even Stevens” to creating his own projects. Many people call LaBeouf crazy for his hybrid of social experiments and performing art projects. These products include green-screened speech “Just Do It” and #INTERVIEW, an hour-long video featuring him and actor Amy Cliff recording each other with cameras strapped to their heads and sitting in silence, staring at each other. From his juvenile arrests to his unexpected responses to public media to his surprisingly soul-searching messages, LaBeouf’s reputation is…varied.
Well, he’s at it again! From 9 a.m. Feb. 19 until 9 a.m. Feb. 20, he kicked off his most recent project: #ELEVATE. For 24 hours, LaBeouf remained in a small elevator of Oxford Union, accompanied by collaborators Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner. For what purpose? To meet anyone who came in the elevator and just talk. (Yes, he did leave the lift to go to the loo when necessary).
According to NME.com, LaBeouf was scheduled to speak at Oxford Union that Friday evening. With the exception of leaving to speak at 8pm, Variety says he dwelled in the elevator like a genie in a lamp, giving himself the chance to casually speak to people who came in the elevator. USA Today says the hours of conversations were streamed live on YouTube, with the official description: “Visitors are invited to address the artists and the Internet, so that their collective voices may form an extended, expansive and egalitarian Oxford Union address.” Topics of conversation ranged from favorite animal to motivation to worst bet ever lost. Some conversations surpassed light-hearted small talk, as one woman tearfully said how she saw how beautiful LaBeouf was, not only on the outside, but also on the inside. LaBeouf seemed genuinely touched when she requested a hug.
Is he doing this for attention? Some seem to think so, and say the increase of his peculiar social projects is due to the decline of his acting career and self-declared lack of fulfillment in Transformers films; they claim these events are only desperate attempts to stay known. For instance, A.V. Club mocks the concept of LaBeouf’s project as art in the title of their article alone: “Shia LaBeouf’s ‘artwork’ now includes riding an elevator and slapping a fan.” This mentioned fan was a man who claimed to be a performance artist as well and, during the elevator meet-and-greet, requested that LaBeouf slap him. LaBeouf was hesitant, saying that he didn’t mind injuring himself for his films, but did not want to hurt other people. The “slap,” though caught only on audio, was an audible light hit, hardly the rude violence that some celebrity news article titles make it out to be.
LaBeouf cannot deny that his independent projects are unusual, more emotional endeavors than his most recent action movie roles. In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, LaBeouf confesses, “That’s partly what I’ve been doing for the last year, trying to reinvent myself, in very calculated behavior, and sometimes very uncalculated behavior.” Mitchell describes his current style as more of a dialogue than a monologue. LaBeouf would describe his projects as improvisational yet purposeful, saying, “I don’t know where it’s headed or what the endgame is, but I know I’m learning a lot about myself and about my community in doing it. And it’s completely cathartic. I’m fulfilled by it in the same way I’d love to be fulfilled by the films I’m making.”
Regarding this particular project of #ELEVATE, LaBeouf says, “[It’s about] getting to know people, connecting to people.” Perhaps his creative “insanity” is on to something: the fulfillment of honest, stolen moments with people could make life worth living.