Matthew McConaughey has been making commercials for Lincoln for over three years now. This means a few things. One, it means advertising is weird, because who would’ve ever imagined this becoming one of our longest running, most successful ad campaigns, especially before the whole True Detective “Time is a flat circle” thing set the world on fire. There was a time, not long ago, when Matthew McConaughey was thought of as a shirtless, bongo-playing hippie who hung out at the beach, and Lincoln was thought of as a car driven by rich old uncles who play golf three days a week. We’ve all come a long way.
And two, it means we’ve now seen enough of these commercials to start noticing a pattern or two. The most obvious pattern is “Wow, Matthew McConaughey is an odd dude,” which is extremely true. But I was watching these all again and something started rattling around in my brain. What if this isn’t “Matthew McConaughey” in these commercials? What if he’s actually just playing a character in them, the same character all the way through, and that character is slowly losing his mind? What if this is all heading somewhere?
Now, this is undeniably a stupid idea. Quite stupid, in fact. I’ll gladly cop to that. But if you’re willing to give it a chance and take a stroll with me through the history of the campaign, I think we can have some fun with it all anyway. Buckle in. Things are gonna get strange.
This is the first commercial in the series, the much-parodied one that started it all. Matthew McConaughey driving around at night, just rambling about the past. It’s delightful. I wish it was podcast length and filled with more of his loopy life philosophy. But the thing is, it’s really only his delivery and general McConaughey-ness that makes it work. I mean, look at the transcript and read it cold, in your own voice.
Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward. I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts, I mean going back to see where you came from. Where you been, how you got here… see where you’re going. I know there are those that say you can’t go back. Yes you can. You just have to look in the right place.
That a) doesn’t mean anything, and b) would actually be kind of terrifying if you switched out the backing music in the ad with suspenseful, creepy music from a horror movie. Like picture, I don’t know… picture Michael Shannon saying all of that. To himself. While driving around at night. Suddenly, it all goes from zany life lessons to a serial killer’s manifesto, or possibly the ravings of someone looking for clues to solve a conspiracy he’s concocted in his own head. It might be even stranger if you imagine someone in the car with him. For example, you. Picture Michael Shannon saying all those words to you, in a car, at night. You’d be scared stiff. This is what I’m getting at.
Okay, watch this commercial twice. The first time, soak it all in. McConaughey, the bull in the road, the little finger thing he does when he says “That’s a big bull,” all of it. The second time, right before you hit play, ask yourself this question…
What if there is no bull?
It’s not an unfair question to ask. He’s sitting in the middle of the road, in the desert, sweaty and unshaven and wearing a shirt and tie that look like they’ve been on him for at least a day. What seems more likely to you, that a sane and healthy businessman who looks like this got held up by a road-blocking stray bull that he recognizes and is named Cyrus, or that this is a man in the middle of a mental break who has been driving for hours and is now hallucinating livestock?
I think about this a lot. Moving on.