Jim Carrey Makes Me Question Myself...
*Originally Posted on 17th November 2017*
1994 was one hell of year for Jim Carrey. His first three major Hollywood films were all released months apart from each other, with each of them becoming huge hits and launching Carrey into almost instantaneous super stardom - and rightly so. The man's rubber-faced and hyperactive-antics bristled with excitement on screen, and almost everyone was caught in the wave when he made the transition to drama with 'The Truman Show' in 1998. Carrey continued this trend by going full method for 1999's Man on the Moon, a biopic of the late comic Andy Kaufman - an idol of Carrey's, which was directed by Milos Forman. Carrey completely sunk into the mind of Andy and deservedly received praise for his performance even if the film ended his box-office hot streak...
Flash forward twenty years and things are a lot more timid. His energy is still there, but he's more weary, and seems to be exulting some other place of existence that comes across as bliss. Whether or not you're along for the same ride as he seems to currently be (insisting 'Jim Carrey' doesn't actually exist and that the world is now simply just experiencing him) is up to you but it's hard to become swept up in the events of Netflix's new documentary about the production of the Biopic, Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond - with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton (Chris Smith, 2017). The documentary, told entirely from almost 100 hours of behind the scenes footage from the shoot and a recent, elongated interview with Carrey himself, shows Carrey at his most complex (or most egotistical, depending on your view) - he's now a man reminiscing across a time where his troubles temporarily left him, replaced by the apparent 'spirit' of Kaufman himself embodying Carrey both onscreen and off.
In terms of method acting, the idea of something like this is nothing really new. An actor dives into a role and begins living it, usually to critical acclaim later on down the line. But Jim's connection to Andy seems far too personal, far too real...and the documentary itself brought to fruition countless small, lingering thoughts that I doubt I'll be able to get off my chest for the foreseeable future purely due to the personal attachment I (wrongfully so) seem to put into Carrey not only as a human, but even as a type of idol. And this scares me to no end.
"You can fail at what you don't love. So you might as well do what you love"
I think I was about five or six the first time I actually saw Ace Ventura. I remember being even younger and coming across The Mask on television and becoming terrified of this hyperactive, cartoonish, insanity-personified human being immediately...unbeknownst to me he would soon become a small obsession. From the moment Ace stepped on screen clutching the 'fragile' package and tossing it every which way I was hooked. I begged my parents for a video of the film (I had been shown it at a friend's house) and soon almost wore the thing out. My parents weren't necessarily worried about age ratings for things, something I've been thankful to them for, so the crude comedy of films like Me, Myself & Irene ran before my eyes at the film's release. The first Christmas after discovering him I became bombarded with VHS' of his films - Liar Liar, The Cable Guy (so underrated), Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Dumb and Dumber, The Mask and, even though I didn't fully understand it at the time... The Truman Show.
I sadly wasn't self-aware at the time of his rise to stardom, and instead savoured the releases of Bruce Almighty and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind before he began to slow down slightly with his work. As I grew older and my taste in entertainment changed, I began to find new appreciation for his serious work, whilst still leaning back on his physical zaniness as some of the most consistent safe-viewing ever. I began signing up for small email lists to be notified of when he was confirmed for a new project, I essentially stole a lot of his earlier material in my Primary School playground, and would perform ridiculous physical-comedy non-practiced set pieces in front of my friends to try and elicit some form of laughter. Their laughter was most important. If I pretended to jump out of an imaginary boat after accidentally catching a shark on a fishing rod, maybe I'd end up with some scrapes and bruises from the jump on the concrete but at least then I'd be committed to getting that important response. I began to try and exaggerate my facial expressions every morning in my bedroom mirror, always trying to one-up the day before in its intensity (something I still do subconsciously now and in the majority of photos). My face needed to stretch to accommodate the insanity I wanted to portray, Jim was a hero of mine and I was of the age where I thought he was the perfect person to follow in terms of a life goal. He made people laugh, he made me laugh...I think I might have been part of the problem.
"Desperation is a necessary ingredient for learning anything"
We know the story well enough now. The correlation between entertainers (specifically comedians) and the potential for mental strain/health issues is well documented and commented on, and I don't want to become bogged down in talks of depression because I doubt that Jim would believe the documentary really revels in anything to do with the subject. In 2014, the world lost someone special when Robin Williams sadly took his own life, and specifically for a generation of people they were left devastated by his passing. Personally, within people of the same age-bracket as myself (22) - Jim Carrey's name is usually soon to follow after Williams', both in terms of impact, talent and sadly...wellbeing. Especially in regards to the rough time he's been going through recently (again things I won't/can't comment on) and his almost-resistance to step into the limelight for more than a second, I feel as though Jim and Andy seems to have come out at the perfect time to offer a look into something that Jim's actually been holding onto for twenty years now. The 55 year old Canadian-American recounts the events fondly and with a sense of wonder, as if he's rediscovering the excitement and thrill of everything he (or, rather, Andy) was doing at the time.
Andy Kaufman lived for the response. He was so uniquely himself throughout everything he did, whether it was causing trouble on live television by pretending to be sexist or reading out the entirety of The Great Gatsby to an entire audience awaiting him to do a comedy routine. What seemed childish to many actually revealed a child-like wonder with the world around him. Kaufman plucked at the strings of the entertainment industry he was let into, he wanted to see how things worked and how they would react whilst at the same time, being someone who could still show compassion and a fondness for all things caring and compassionate, something he and Carrey share in their bones. Whether or not you're in for the ride when Carrey retells the story of Andy essentially possessing him during the filming of Man on the Moon is down to you, but some of the footage (and the film itself) is startling in its accuracy. He WAS Kaufman. He WAS Tony Clifton, Kaufman's mean-spirited singer alter ego. He played the same pranks on set, he conversed with Andy's family (onscreen and off) with sometimes-huge emotional impact to the point where it affected those around him (there's one point where 'Kaufman' and his onscreen father have a familial argument in a makeup trailer, only for the makeup artist to be reduced to tears as she recalls how it reminds her of her own father).
In some of the footage from the documentary, both Andy and Tony jokingly talk about Carrey from time to time, and their comments are quite simply heartbreaking, no matter how fleeting they are. Clifton questions Carrey's then-trademark manic happiness, quipping 'he's always smiling. That's how you know it's fake' to a live audience on set - who all respond with roaring laughter. Andy at one point talks about a conversation he and Jim had the night before, and confesses that Jim worries whether feeling fragile and broken actually makes him talented, and whether or not he's willingly not letting himself get better to remain talented due to the fear of becoming less interesting or less entertaining. It's a spectacularly worrying thought and something which, had it come out twenty-years ago at the time would have been a blow to the system for any of Carrey's fans. When does the curiosity of Jim's personal problems cross the line into morbid curiosity?
"For the most sensitive of us, the noise can be too much"
Cut to Carrey in an interview earlier in the year however, and he's simultaneously confident and tactical about these problems. He jokes about being broken to the point where upon meeting Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry he was told 'You're beautiful. Don't get better. Because you're broken' whilst the main emotional responses from the actor within the documentary come from reminiscing about his father, his talks with Andy's real-life family and the impact Kaufman actually had on him as a person.
A short interview with Carrey on a fashion red carpet recently went viral due to Carrey's strange behaviour and disinterest in the world around him, insisting nothing actually matters and that he doesn't really believe anything exists anymore. Within the documentary's second half he repeatedly becomes enamored with his thoughts on reality and how to experience the world, that's what's important to him now. To many, this could be seen as either pure insanity, vanity (at one point Jim jokes about taking on the role of Jesus Christ the same way he did Andy) or one giant joke on our expense, the literal return of Kaufman. Comedy actor Ben Stiller once commented during an interview that because of his natural talent for comedy, he has 'a harder time overcoming the public's desire for him to be funny' and he's right. Hell, I'm even adding fuel to the fire by writing some sort of speculative, paper-thin look into an ordeal I know nothing about, trying to make some sort of tenuous link to my own life in the progress - something Carrey would most likely disapprove of. But the truth is, unlike The Truman Show the year before, Man on the Moon didn't bring in the money many thought it would, and Jim immediately returned to the crude physicality of Me, Myself & Irene almost as a safety net.
How hard must it have been to completely not be yourself, to take on the persona of someone else and all their problems for months at a time. To forget your own life. Then to be thrust into the limelight once again and be met with a less-than-stellar response for completely changing yourself. It must have been so insanely difficult to go back to the comedy of the Farrelly brothers after that, almost to give in to the perception of yourself that the public has. 'No we don't like that Carrey, go back to the silly stuff'.
Of course, over the next few years Carrey would continue into drama, with his roles gradually becoming more sparse, but still not without pure talent and impact. It does beg the question though, if 'Jim Carrey' doesn't exist - like he now insists he doesn't...then who is he? This Jim Carrey who's an extraordinarily talented painter, who raises philosophical questions at inopportune moments? We know the public's idea of Carrey is still out there, he pops up from time to time in interviews and the occasion recent film (his video interview with comedian Norm Macdonald is a testament to this), but it feels like the release of the documentary has slotted into an elaborate puzzle that Carrey has made his personality into, never to truly be understood by anyone but himself.
Placing myself in his shoes, especially during the documentary, is unavoidable and something that could be extremely dangerous. Whilst Carrey seems to recently be able to have control over his ability to overthink, I currently wallow in it and am a slave to it - perhaps even longing for my own Man on the Moon. Parallels can be found in anything however, and I'm in no way comparing myself to the actor - I could never seriously even attempt to utter anything along those lines.
"Universal didn't want the footage to come out because they didn't want people to think I was an asshole"
Cynics will argue that this is all one giant inflation for the ego of a man whose ego has laid dormant during his period of limbo, and whilst I can see the argument for that, I believe that does a disservice to the man many people look to comfort for. Maybe becoming Andy was his version of getting away from the stress of having to be 'zany' all the time? He certainly seems to be more at peace with himself than ever, though it's hard to gauge what could be a performance and what isn't. We know the man's been through hell and back before, we now know that twenty years ago he fully disappeared for months. Is he just doing it again? Is he actually preparing for playing Jesus Christ? Is the fact that he's again currently working with Michel Gondry a signifier for his emotional state?
This is all guess work. Mostly I wanted to gush about a man I respect a tremendous amount and look up to. And as a documentation of a slip into another persona I highly recommend checking out the documentary on Netflix now - it makes a great companion to Man on the Moon - a film that will hopefully now get some more deserved interest.
"What I had decided, at that moment, in my bed...was they [the audience] need to be free from concern, so I'm gonna be the guy that's free from concern. I'm gonna appear to be the guy that's free from concern".
EPILOGUE: JULY 2019
It's been almost two years since the release of the documentary now, and whilst I still very much hold true much of the speculation and paranoia written above, there have been one or two changes that have made me come to realise a few things. Most importantly, Carrey's follow-up project with Michel Gondry Kidding came out (you can find out my extended thoughts on it here). In it, Carrey plays a Mr. Rogers-esque children's television presenter whose life is falling apart in front of him - the parallels here are obvious. Whilst I don't think Kidding has received attention it should have, the show's second-season renewal and escalating plot could some day lead to one of the man's all-time greatest creations in Jeff Pickles.
Outside of that however, Jim seems to have relaxed into himself. Still not comfortable, by any means, but he's more present in interviews and self-assured in his answers, whilst his almost-daily political paintings have set the world of Twitter on fire. Jim and Andy retroactively feels like the end of an unsure chapter for a man many hold dear but will probably never know. I'm waiting with baited breath for what comes next, and after a period of quiet uncertainty it sometimes feels as though history is deemed to repeat itself. The same way he regressed back to Me, Myself & Irene after Man on the Moon seems to be the only reason I can think of for his involvement as Dr. Eggman in Sonic the Hedgehog, even if he is the only thing about the film that's been positively received so far...
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond - featuring a very special, contractually obligated appearance by Tony Clifton is now available on Netflix.
Man on the Moon is now available on DVD.
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