Tusk: The Walrus and Kevin Smith
by Kristin Grady
Podcasts have become more ubiquitous than makeup channels and makbang. A few are structured and educational, some creative and hilarious, most just inane. The only podcast to ever inspire a feature indie film was 2013’s episode 259 of SModcast titled “The Walrus and The Carpenter”, which was the basis for Kevin Smith’s 2014 horror-comedy Tusk. Out of canon, containing an extremely grim story and none of Kevin’s usual rotating cast of characters, the film received mixed reviews. Perhaps this was because the dark comedy masked the rather bleak, yet poignant metaphor for being trapped in a walrus suit. Being fat was killing him… and almost did.
Tusk does not fat shame. It’s one of Kevin’s few films that’s not full of fat jokes at his own expense. Giving himself nicknames such as “lunchbox” and “fatman”, to be enthusiastically delivered by his hetero-life-mate Jay Mewes, it’s a wonder no one has ever called out Kevin for fat shaming himself. He dealt with his increasing weight gain over his career by “punching in”, a form of denial and normalization that can exacerbate a food addiction. Male body image issues are becoming more talked about these days, even though traditionally, the focus has been on women. Regardless of gender, making fun of an eating disorder doesn’t cure it, even if you’re making fun of yourself. In a film about being forced to wear a human flesh bag of blubber, there were no fat jokes.
The “funny fat guy” archetype goes back at least as far as Fatty Arbuckle. This boisterous, clownish, often idiotic character varies little and often results in an early death for performers typecast in this role. Curly, the thickest of the Three Stooges, had a stroke on set. John Belushi and Chris Farley both succumbed to their addictions at the age of 33. John Candy made it to 43, perhaps due to a decline in his drug addiction after Belushi’s death. The commonality is between this “funny fat guy” character and these men who suffered under the detrimental health effects of that body standard, exacerbated by overworking and substance abuse. Kevin leaned into this mold, feeding his food addiction rather than hard drugs, encouraged by entertained fans.
Filmmaking is his other addiction. Screenwriting, directing, and editing can enable a sedentary lifestyle too. He conformed to the “director” stereotype: bearded, always wearing a hat, and shapeless clothes (ie. Michael Moore, Stephen Speilberg, Ron Howard). Such an image is supposed to project self-sacrifice for the sake of art, but it often speaks of a lack of self-care. Kevin’s voice as a director may have been one of his saving graces, but it came at the price of compounding pressure to adhere to the stereotype. These two selves installed an internal critic in Kevin’s mind that prodded “Dance, fat boy, dance!” as he continued to create his own walrus costume.
Aligned with the Jungian shadow-self concept, Howe is the hunter (Animus) and Wallace the hunted (Anima). Confused about gender due to his childhood sexual abuse, Howe forced Wallace into a Venus of Willindorf-like body as a replacement for a mother figure he never had, and a meta reference to Ed Gein. The disembodied penis bone, displayed triumphantly over Howe’s fireplace, shows a loss of masculinity, which he later takes out on his victims. Howe and Wallace slow-danced in the murky, corpse-ridden waters of the walrus habitat, Howe reminiscing like a long-reunited sweetheart. According to research from the early 2000’s, for many men, fatness is feminizing.
Kevin wrote this line from Dogma about himself:
Writers are often both the hero and the villain in the story. Stephen King refers to Annie Wilkes from Misery as a metaphor for his cocaine addiction in the 80’s. Like Annie, Howe was Kevin’s dark muse, crippling him and making him serve a selfish purpose. He said “Feed…” in a creepy way when he made Wallace eat the fish, to turn him into more of a walrus. The subtext of Tusk was ultimately about how Kevin was eating himself to death. Subconsciously, it was a letter to himself and a cry for help. Kevin created his “walrus” character over and over, Howe created Mr. Tusk* over and over, an amalgam of Kevin’s fans, his critics, and himself.
Wallace is Kevin’s hyperbolic-negative view of himself, an arrogant podcaster with no redeemable qualities who cares about fame more than his fans. Biologically, Wallace’s walrus transformation makes no sense. Walruses have tongues and the remnants of Wallace’s legs, mangled into flippers, would be useless in a walrus fight. Not only would he have bled to death or died of infection, the way Howe cripples him makes no sense. Or does it?
The transformation Wallace goes through is akin to obesity. Walruses are basically big bags of blubber with giant spikes on their faces. Losing his legs was like losing limbs to diabetes and general loss of mobility due to being overweight. Wallace’s drive to produce his show got him into that situation like Kevin’s career got him into (and enabled) the body that almost killed him. He was known as the “fatman”, everyone thought that was hilarious, so he thought he had to keep being the fatman. Seems like this was subconscious at the time because it makes sense within Tusk’s story too.
“…I wanted to right what I felt was the only wrong of Red State by scripting something with no religious or sexual politics…” Kevin Smith, 2013
Tusk ended up with a lot of religious, sexual, and political themes. Howe said he was one of the Duplessis orphans, a reference to a very real Canadian political scandal involving the Catholic church. Howe’s psychology was mangled by the priests who used him as a sexual object. Some abuse victims later turn to violence and/or develop body issues*. In the flashback to Mr. Tusk’s murder, Howe appeared to eat the walrus’s genitals first, which would explain why he had the baculum and why he used that penis bone to try to finish off Wallace. The violent focus on genitals is telling of sexual trauma.
Many sexual abuse victims of the Catholic church (among other religions) remained silent for decades. The Duplessis aspect could be an extrapolation of how Kevin felt used by Harvey Weinstein. The Catholic send-up Dogma has never been available on any streaming platform because the Weinstein brothers still own the rights and don’t want to stir up a Catholic controversy. Isn’t it ironic? Kevin’s art was stolen. In a way, they silenced Silent Bob and his chubby physique increased. He started putting on that walrus costume pound by pound, perhaps as a defense mechanism, maybe out of guilt.
Wallace’s tongue was removed, not leaving him silent, but taking away his ability to speak. Kevin said he created Silent Bob because he didn’t want to learn any lines, but it’s never really explained within the “Jay and Silent Bob” storyline what event rendered Bob silent. Silent Bob speaks once or twice a film and does communicate in a Buster Keton/Charlie Chaplin pantomime, generally using Jay as the mouthpiece for his naughty thoughts. Like a tusked walrus, Kevin had no voice, but his mouth was a weapon.
In the end, Wallace was condemned to a fate worse than death. He had to live crippled in that walrus costume because his girlfriend still loved him and didn’t want to let him go. In a sweet, subtle message to male fans with body image issues, chubby best friend Teddy got the girl by caring more. A heart attack in 2018 ultimately changed Kevin’s life for the better. He went vegan and eventually lost a lot of weight because his daughter Harley Quinn insisted. 2014 Kevin thought that the love of his wife and daughter was keeping him alive in spite of him. 2018 Kevin finally realized that their love can help him get better. Happy people can make great art. Even if they don’t know it at the time.
Roscoe Arbuckle “Fatty” Arbuckle
Tuskegee Study – Timeline– *Interesting reference in Mr. Tusk’s namesake, the Tuskegee experiment where black men with syphilis were not informed, not treated, and not given the opportunity for consent.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20059707/ – loss of mobility
Why Victims of Sexual Abuse Are More Likely to Be Obese *Howe was not obese, but the walrus costume was a metaphor for “protective fat”