The Majestic Jim Carrey

23-Apr-09 1:15 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 8 comments.

I recently rewatched the 1998 film The Truman Show. I've often considered the movie, ostensibly a comedy, to be Jim Carrey's first dramatic role, representing a turning point for the actor similar to what Stranger than Fiction did for Will Ferrell. (The two movies aren't all that different in plot, either.) Not to say that comedic roles are of lesser value, or that Carrey wouldn't or shouldn't continue to capitalize on that strength; but The Truman Show demonstrated that he was not limited to that genre. Inspired to trace his growth, I turned to his next dramatic film, The Majestic.

The Majestic (click for full size)One morning in 1953, Jim Carrey wakes up on a California beach shore with no memory of anything that's come before. The residents of the nearby sleepy town of Lawson find the amnesiac Carrey to bear a striking resemblance to Luke Trimble, one of their 60+ young men who died in World War II. Since Luke's body was never found, and a decade can age both a person's face and his father's and fianceé's memories, it seems plausible that their lost son has returned.

But there is a fundamental flaw: this is not the movie's opening. We are instead introduced to Peter Appleton, a Hollywood screenplay writer whose career is a victim of the Red Scare. Depressed and with nowhere to turn, he goes for a drive one rainy night, resulting in the accident that leaves him on Lawson's shore.

As a result, the audience finds no mystery in Carrey's identity; even as we can relate to the hope that he is Luke, we know that he is not. This approach is not without benefit, as we are able to cringe as we see the townsfolk expect of "Luke" what only we know he cannot provide. But if we are to be introduced to Carrey first as someone who is decidedly not Luke, then further exposure to Appleton's life would've made the development of Carrey's character more marked.

Despite that one scripting decision, characters are what the film is all about, and the director knows how to use them. The Majestic is directed by Frank Darabont, who later relied on some of the same talent in The Mist. Luke's fianceé, played by Laurie Holden, has a worldliness that sets her apart from the townsfolk, yet they share a faith and hope in common. Jeffrey DeMunn as the town's mayor is more optimistic than a stereotypical politician, yet two scenes — one in which he speaks not a word — subtly make a more serious character of him. Its these smaller roles that are perhaps the show's strength: though Carrey is the star, The Majestic is ultimately an ensemble show. Carrey is given scenes with almost every character, major and minor, giving a depth to what would otherwise be throwaway extras. Even smaller parts by Bob Balaban and Bruce Campbell find their talent effectively exploited.

Everything ties together in a story that gives its characters numerous obstacles, but not without believable means for resolution. The climax comes in a scene that is so tense, and in which Appleton is so nervous, that I was overwhelmed by the tension and had to pause the movie to calm down before proceeding. For something that powerful, the buildup is worth it. Otherwise, at 2.5 hours, the film might be a bit long — and oddly, and the titular Majestic, a theater Luke Trimble and his dad used to run and which Carrey works to restore, is featured prominently for only 20 minutes, starting 1:15 into the film. But ultimately, though I was initially surprised by much of the plot, many of those surprises proved to be pleasant ones, as even if I didn't know what the director was doing, he proved that he did.

This cross between Random Harvest, Pleasantville, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (with an incongruous tip of the hat to Saving Private Ryan near the end) deserved better than the reception it received upon its 2001 release. Even if the script is as unoriginal as the critics decried, Carrey's performance had me on the edge of my seat, something Ace Ventura never could've done.

Play Misty For Me

17-Apr-08 3:19 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I read Stephen King's The Mist concurrent with its adaptation playing in theaters. I was hoping to go right from one to the next, but the movie's cinematic stay was brief, delaying me until last month's DVD release.

I am not normally a fan of Stephen King, but I was eager to see film based on its similarities to one of my favorite video game franchises, Silent Hill. I hoped The Mist would meet the expectations that the mediocre film adaptation of Silent Hill left unfulfilled. Both properties are about normal people who suddenly find their world encroached upon by another — a dark, murky dimension filled with unspeakable horrors. Indeed, the same siren terrifingly heralds hell's transition, and the scene in which a Mist monster first broaches the survivors' safe harbor almost perfectly parallels a similar introduction in the first Silent Hill game.

Laurie Holden in Silent Hill Laurie Holden in The Mist
Actress Laurie Holden, having patrolled the streets of Silent Hill,
retired from the force to teach in Maine, bringing The Mist with her.

But director Frank Darabont commented that "The story is less about the monsters outside than about the monsters inside, the people you're stuck with, your friends and neighbors breaking under the strain." The internal politics of the townspeople stranded in a grocery store enveloped in mist are certainly the film's focus. The characters in the movie are more distinct than their literary counterparts, with unique personalities and backgrounds. It's easy to understand the different reactions each has to the crisis: fear, anger, disbelief, action. It makes me wonder: how would I respond to such a threat?

The Mist

One brave, stupid man walks into the mist. Guess how much of him walks out.

A store clerk posits that it was to impose order on such chaos that religion and politics were invented. Mrs. Carmody manifests that power when she founds her own cult within the store, quickly gaining disciples seeking salvation. A friend of mine interpreted this portrayal as an anti-religion subtext, but I didn't see it. Though Carmody's cult is extreme and violent, we the audience are given no reason to question the effectiveness of her methods in these desperate times. Does she offer salvation by coincidence, or, were the situation to persist, would we see her religion prove true? The answer seems clearer in the book, whereas the movie leaves the audience with more questions.

There were two more concrete elements from the book that didn't make the cut: one, Mr. Drayton and Mrs. Dumfries deal with their desperation in a rather intimate way; and two, the different experiences of the grocery store inhabitants and those of the pharmacy are explained. Given that the original Mist was a novella (halfway between a novel and a short story), the level of detail that was preserved in translating the story to film is admirable compared to similar efforts involving longer texts, so I assume these two aspects were cut by directorial mandate and not the confines of the medium. Neither thread was critical to the overall plot, but both would've offered something substantial to the film's development.

Silent Hill

The Silent Hill game and movie came out in 1999 and 2006, respectively.
The Mist bookends them with a novella and film in 1980 and 2007.

By contrast, two other aspects were introduced. Neither the nature of the mist nor the role of the military were confirmed in the book, left to the speculation of both the characters and the audience; but in the movie, they're more substantiated. There is also a completely new ending, which I suspected would be the case, as the book's final chapter was too open-ended to offer the typical moviegoer the closure he expects. I found the film's conclusion predictable yet disturbing — and consistent with how King treats his protagonists.

The Mist was a good film with some nice character moments, clever nuances, and unsettling effects. Having already read The Mist made for an odd experience of seeing the movie for the first time and yet knowing what's going to happen. Some scenes that were intended to be scary I instead found myself laughing at, though I admit it may've been a nervous laughter. Though the source material is always better, I'm unsure that means it should come first. By watching a movie first, I've ruined half of the more detailed book, whereas a book ruins all of a movie. A novella like The Mist may not follow those rules, but I know there will never be a perfect way to experience the same story a second time, even in a new medium.