Were I asked to lecture on Hesher, here’s how I’d occupy half an hour (maybe a bit more, including the clips). Two interesting things happen in Hesher. The first is an interesting engagement with the role of metaphor: TJ’s English teacher speaks of the role of dreams in literature as TJ daydreams out the widow. Throughout the film Hesher tells stories of his wild life that generate self-conscious responses – Nicole asks if his story about group sex is “some kind of perverted metaphor for me” and Grandma, upon hearing the tale of the snake that starved in a cage full of mice asks, “is TJ the mouse or the snake?”

The second is that, in spite of TJ being too young to drive, Hesher’s visibility to TJ’s dad, and a couple other things, quite a few moments in Hesher hint that Hesher isn’t quite real, but rather a figure TJ conjures up as a reaction to the traumas of his mother’s death and school bullying.

First of all, consider Hesher’s appearances in scenes associated with the bully. In the scene during which the English teacher asks, in post-dubbed dialog, what dreams represent to fictional characters, TJ looks out the window, and Hesher appears and then tosses a marker through that window at TJ. In a standard horror movie sequence of shots, Hesher throws the marker, then TJ leans over to pick it up, and as he rises again we’re back to the original shot set up. Where Hesher ought to occupy the background, he’s gone.

Later, when the bully forces TJ to eat a urinal cake, a door-opening sound causes the bully to look to his right, and Hesher is there. But the normally loquacious bully, after looking toward the door, where Hesher would be, says nothing. In the final, torrential downpour TJ-as-Captain-Willard scene, the bully regains the upper hand, only to be interrupted by a rock flying through the window (I can’t account for that – which is why it’s only a hint of Hesher being a figment). Hesher appears and slices the kid’s nose open. TJ screams at Hesher, but, as in the urinal cake eating scene, their two faces don’t share the frame.

Second, Hesher jumps up after Grandma dies and leaves “before I hurt somebody.” Hesher leaves, and TJ goes to his room to call Nicole with the news that he’s solved her rent problems (stealing, like it’s easy to imagine Hesher doing). Thus TJ goes to Nicole’s apartment, where she and Hesher are fucking. TJ flips out, saying he never wants to see Hesher again. He also calls Nicole a fat prostitute. I’d be willing to entertain the notion that such a reaction would be in line with TJ’s age, mental state, and general mommy issues.

Finally, there’s Grandma’s funeral. At first, TJ cannot speak. But as soon as he can’t say anything, Hesher shows up and says a lot of things. The slomo casket roll through the streets is way overdone, granted, but it’s the capstone to the series of moments when something like magical realism emerges out of TJ’s grief, in the form of Hesher.