Hesher tells the story of a tragic boy, T.J., left numb and empty by his mother’s death, his depressed dad, who hasn’t been able to get out of bed in the mornings or hold down a job or shave since his wife died, his lonely grandmother, and the metalhead (Hesher) who haunts this family.
Hesher is a monument to nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s a monument to metal, and an ode to destruction. The soundtrack features songs by Metallica and Motorhead, including one scene in which Hesher lights a diving board on fire, proceeds to run through the flames and cannonball into a swimming pool full of broken furniture, and then climbs out of the pool nonchalantly humming the lyrics to “Jump in the Fire”.
But there is no obvious point to the movie, no clear meaning. Hesher just appears, and then disappears. Inbetween, he takes T.J. for a ride. Hesher is T.J.'s mentor, but also his demon. He is foulmouthed, unpredictable, and cruel, but also calm and rational in the midst of T.J.'s chaotic grief. He drives T.J. into trouble and despair, but he is also his saviour.
Metallica have said that Hesher reminds them of Cliff Burton, which is profoundly appropriate, because Hesher is like a ghost, more of a mythological figure than a man. That's what makes Hesher stand out. Even though it’s really just a simple story about a troubled child, there's something otherworldly about it.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt unapologetically brings Hesher to life, completely believable as he headbangs fiercely and drums out Motorhead tracks on his steering wheel. Devin Brochu's lack of acting experience is noticeable at times, but it’s a challenging role, and he alternates between moments of rage and blank apathy convincingly enough. Rainn Wilson has obviously mastered the role of tragic loser. Piper Laurie adds a great deal of depth to a character who, on the surface, appears to be just a sweet old grandma who wants to go for a walk.
But then, the entire movie is more than what it appears to be. It has all the raw, violent energy of thrashing albums like Kill 'Em All, but it is also beautiful and poetic, like Hesher's metaphors that aren't really metaphors.
Hesher will obviously appeal to any metalhead worth their salt, but even if you have no interest whatsoever in the music or the scene, its still a worthwhile watch, as an exploration of grief and the demons that haunt us all.