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.
Yes yes, a cute commercial in which Matthew McConaughey drives around and talks to his two dogs about dinner. Adorable. Look at their faces.
What makes this one weird, though, is, like, what if he’s serious? What if he really is taking his two dogs out to eat at a sushi restaurant? What if he plans to sit with the two of them at a table and keep talking to them like this — like they are having a conversation — as they eat spicy tuna rolls. Imagine being the server at a high-end sushi restaurant and having a handsome man walk in with two dogs and ask for a table for three, like it’s normal. Like they’re buddies. Again, it’s important to take McConaughey out of the situation, because we’ve come to accept this kind of behavior from him. Pretend it’s just a regular dude. A schlub. What would you do? Be honest.
I would call the police.
While we’re on the “Okay, but picture this in real life” thing… there’s this. I’ve covered this commercial before, but it’s worth doing again for our purposes here. Let me paint you a picture. You are at a party at a wealthy friend’s house. It is a good, fun party, but not a wild drunken one. You are the last to leave. You get a few miles down the road and realize you left your phone behind. You double back and knock on the door. Your friend, the host, answers it, fully dressed and soaking wet, and the two of you have this conversation:
“Hey bud, sorry. Looks like I forgot my ph-… Wait a second. Why are you all wet?”
“Just jumped in the pool.”
“In… in your suit?”
“Thinkin’ about automobiles, my man.”
Now picture this happening one week after the same friend got kicked out of a sushi restaurant for trying to be seated with his dogs, and a few months after he left a meeting at work and went missing for 72 hours and came back talking about a things he learned from a wise bull named Cyrus. Not great, right? And why does he own so many different brand new Lincolns, anyway? I get that some rich people collect cars, but… who collects brand new Lincolns? That’s weird, too. Not as weird as backflopping into a pool with your suit on for no apparent reason, sure. But still weird.
This brings us to the strangest spot yet.
Okay, two questions:
1) Is this car parked on top of an open body of water? Because it looks like it is. And if that’s the case, I take back everything I said about the person in these commercials going crazy, because the person in these commercials is apparently some sort of magical alien being who is capable of making large luxury cars float and we really can’t judge him the way we would a regular human. If it’s not the case, however, this appears to be his most elaborate delusion yet.
2) Floating aside, which is weirder to you: Him sitting in the front seat and imagining a second version of himself in the back, or him sitting in the back and imagining a second version of himself in the front? I’ve been going back and forth on it for a bit now, and I think I’ve settled on the latter, if only because in that scenario he is imagining himself getting chauffeured around by himself.
I suppose the point I’m making here is this: We really can’t rule out the possibility that Lincoln and Matthew McConaughey have been making a short film about a very wealthy mentally unstable man this whole time, and all of it is building to a commercial in which he drives a Lincoln to a multi-level parking garage and attempts to assassinate an ambassador or something. I mean, that probably won’t happen. Lincoln almost definitely does not want their cars to be associated with mentally unstable would-be assassins. But given the things that have already happened in this campaign, all I’m saying is that it’s something we shouldn’t rule out completely. Not yet, at least.