WARNING: This article contains major spoilers.
Made by Nicolas Cage superfans about Nicolas Cage superfans for Nicolas Cage superfans, The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent features Cage not just giving boilerplate action movie tropes a good workout, but also enduring many references, deliberate and opaque, to his individual body of work. And that’s not all—other movies relevant to the Cage filmography but not directly part of it come into play, either obliquely or directly. Some may even be accidental—but to fully embrace the “nouveau-shamanic” sensibility of the actor himself, as described by his fictional counterpart in the film, we must surely understand there are no accidents.
Nonetheless, the movie references fall into three distinct categories:
The movie opens with the climactic family reunion scene from Con Air, with Cage’s long-haired Cameron Poe finally bringing the stuffed bunny to his daughter. The movie is being viewed by Maria (Katrin Vankova), a teenage girl enthralled with the performance. When she’s suddenly kidnapped by masked men, Unbearable Weight’s B-plot kicks in. It turns out she’s the daughter of the Catalonian president, and she’s being used to leverage him into dropping out. The CIA are not happy with this state of affairs.
As Cage worries about the possibility that his star is fading in Hollywood and his money is running out, he hallucinates “Nicky,” a younger version of himself from the days when he was an indiputable A-lister. Nicky wears a T-shirt name-checking David Lynch’s Bizarro World take on The Wizard Of Oz, in which Cage memorably channeled Elvis in his role as Sailor Ripley.
Nicky doesn’t do the Elvis voice, but he is full of young Cage’s manic intensity, coining the sure-to-be-imitated catchphrase, “Nic FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING Cage!”
As Cage is flown out to Mallorca on a private plane to meet wealthy superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal) paying him a million dollars, Cage’s Michael Bay-directed action opus plays as the inflight movie, showing the scene in which Cage instructs Sean Connery to “Cut the chit-chat, A-HOLE!” As his character’s name in that film is Stanley Goodpseed, it’s arguably wishing him God speed on his new journey.
Cage’s presence interrupts the CIA stakeout of Javi’s compound by two CIA agents, Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz). While Martin recognizes Cage first, Vivian mentions Moonstruck as the movie of his she likes.
Martin prefers Face/Off, which will come up again...and again. Likely because it is generally Film Twitter’s favorite big-studio Cage action movie.
In order to plant a tracer, Vivian greets Cage at the airport under the pretense of being a huge fan of this animated caveman sequel. Deadpan and unenthused, Cage mutters, “I like that movie too. I made that movie with Emma Stone.” It’s exactly the sort of noncommittal comment a celebrity would make in hopes of placating an annoying fan.
When Cage meets Javi, they discuss favorite movies, and Javi’s #1 is Face/Off. We will later discover that a lifesize waxwork of Cage in Face/Off, complete with two working golden guns, is the centerpiece of his Nicolas Cage collection.
A serious, Oscar-bait literary adaptation in which audiences didn’t take Cage’s Italian accent very seriously, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, in The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, is the “underrated” movie where Cage met his latest [in-story, fictional] ex-wife Olivia, a makeup artist.
Javi’s Nicolas Cage fandom primarily stems from this unlikely comedy pairing Cage with Shirley MacLaine as an irascible former First Lady he must guard. In a tearful birthday speech, Javi cites this movie as creating a bond between him and his dying father, who watched it in his last days at the hospital. To him, the character of Tess represents his father.
At a crucial moment when both Javi and Cage are impaired, Javi insists Cage must be their designated driver, because he did most of his own stunt driving in the car heist film.
In Javi’s collection of Cage memorabilia, Cage is especially impressed by seeing the chainsaw he wields during a power-tool duel in Panos Cosmatos’ supernatural cult revenge horror opus.
While Cage plays both Nick Cage (present-day) and Nicky (the younger hallucination) with the aid of body doubles and CG, the actor playing Nicky is billed as “Nicolas Kim Coppola,” his real name. Ridgemont is the only feature film in which he was billed with the Coppola surname, before taking his pseudonym from Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage early in his career to preempt charges of nepotism.
In the role that won him an Academy Award, Cage’s alcoholic writer Ben reacts to one of his low points by taking a beer into the swimming pool and drinking it underwater. That in itself played like a twist on a similar scene from The Graduate, but as reenacted in Javi’s pool it is most definitely a Cage reference. Earlier in the movie, another drunken low point that leads Cage to declare he’s quitting acting feels like even more channeling of the Ben character, albeit less directly.
For Spike Jonze’s satire about the hazards of adapting books into movies, Cage played both real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald. Caught between commercial interests and authorial integrity, the movie they’re writing turns into the movie they’re in.
Cage’s dual versions of himself in Unbearable feel inspired by the two Kaufmans, but that’s not all. To extend his stay with Javi and continue spying for the CIA, Cage suggests the two of them write a script together. And as the deadline to rescue Maria approaches, Cage tries to turn that script from an adult-skewing drama into an action movie, giving him a pretest to stake out likely kidnapping locations. Eventually, again, the movie they’re writing becomes the movie we’re watching.
Javi’s room of memorabilia would require lengthy freeze-framing in order to catch every single reference. But upon first viewing, and with the help of the filmmakers, here’s what we did catch: the Face/Off waxwork with real golden guns, National Treasure poster, chemical weapons from The Rock, Mandy chainsaw, Nic Cage face stitched onto a sequined pillow, the burnt bunny from Con Air, the diapers from Raising Arizona, the lottery ticket from It Could Happen to You, and the torch from National Treasure and the hand from Moonstruck. Screenplays include Lord Of War, National Treasure, Leaving Las Vegas, and slates from Valley Girl, Face/Off, and Raising Arizona are also on display.
During a climactic shootout, Cage insists that he can’t run in the shoes Javi just gave him. Javi insists that he can, because he saw the DVD documentary in which Cage did his own running.
Finally at home safely with his family, Nicolas Cage talks about the reason he wears a tarantula-shaped belt buckle. Among other possibilities he admits a bee was suggested, but he responded, “Not the bees!” This, of course, is his most famous line from The Wicker Man, as his character gets incapacitated by a metal helmet filled with angry bees.
Desperate to get a role in David Gordon Green’s movie, Cage compares the script to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1949 film noir. The Edward G. Robinson movie, in which the sons of a criminal banker turn on each other, may be intended as foreshadowing of Javi’s crime family in Spain, and its final outcome.
Cage also starred in Green’s Joe.
Cage forces his teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) to watch this classic of silent German expressionist horror. She is unimpressed, both by the movie and his lecture as to why she should like it. In real life, Cage told The Guardian, his father used to project movies like Caligari and Nosferatu at home. Years later, they would inspire the actor’s performance in Vampire’s Kiss.
Also in real life, Nicolas Cage does not have a teenage daughter.
Later in the movie, Javi calls it his second favorite film of all time, after Face/Off. It’s an insta-bonding moment.
Beloved by critics, Paddington 2 is the sort of movie that gets dismissed as kiddie fare by those who haven’t seen it. Cage is inclined to do likewise when Javi cites it as his third-favorite all-timer, because it made him want to be a better man.
So Cage watches it with him, tears in his eyes, declaring, “Paddington 2 is incredible!”
“I fucking told you!” replies Javi.
When Addy eventually chooses it for family movie night, Cage is finally in a position to endorse her taste, rather than enforce his.
When Cage accidentally hits himself with a paralytic drug, the ensuing physical shtick evokes the scene in Scorsese’s film in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill try to fight each other while zonked on Quaaludes.
Under the tiniest amount of peer pressure, Cage drops acid with Javi while he’s supposed to be looking for the kidnapped Maria. Via text, he justifies it to Vivian as a Donnie Brasco situation, in which Johnny Depp’s undercover cop must behave like a real criminal to maintain his alias. Cage was among those considered for the lead role as Donnie before it went to Depp.
Javi’s cousin dismissively calls Javi “Coppola” in a scene in which the family crime ties are revealed. Two statues of horse heads bookend them, invoking one of the most famous scenes in The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola is, of course, Cage’s uncle.
The timing barely works on this, but the parallels are unmistakable. As a final plot point, Cage dons prosthetics and adopts an exaggerated accent to play the balding member of a crime family. If the resemblance to Jared Leto’s “immersive” performance as Paolo Gucci is unintentional, it’s certainly uncanny.
Haddish and Barinholtz previously played husband and wife in The Oath, written and directed by Barinholtz, in which ordinary citizens are asked to swear a loyalty oath to the government, and pressure family members who won’t. As agents of the CIA in Unbearable Weight, they pressure Cage to serve the government by making him feel guilty for being negligent to his family..
Despite our dedicated efforts to uncover every bit of Cage ephemera in the film, there are almost undoubtedly even more references to discover in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. The end credits mention Ghost Rider, among others, though it’s unclear where in the movie that might be. But if you can find any we missed, let us know in comments!