Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Number 23 makes an odd statement on accountability

I am a Jim Carrey fan, and not because his physical humour puts him up there with the very best of all time; rather because, very quietly, Carrey has built a body of work that has not a few statements towards a higher consciousness. Carrey continues to explore treatments of morality - not his typical comedic fare, this dark crime caper actually ends with a Bible quote, which  may have triggered sub-conscious rejection by all those who out-and-out hate on this movie (I've previously commented on the issue of theophobia and methinks such is the case again here).

The movie isn't really about the number 23, although on the surface everyone wants to make it out as such. That's the problem - it's disappointing if the issue is supposed to be about the numerology, weak as it may be. What is it really about? Accountability.

Sure, it's all goofy laughs in the two Ace Ventura films, or Dumb and Dumber, but there's some real ambition going in other work such as Bruce Almighty, The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, Liar Liar, Fun With Dick and Jane, Yes Man, and there are yet a few of his that I have not seen, such as The Majestic, or Man on the Moon. Anyway, let's get on with this The Number 23 thing which was neither a box office hit nor critically acclaimed. I think that's unfortunate, because there is are a few redeeming aspects to this film that ought to get a chance for consideration.

A disturbed fellow killed someone, hid the body, framed an innocent man who went to prison for the murder; wrote a confession which one of the psychiatrists who dealt with his treatment took possession of and rewrote as a novel. That novel manages to end up in the protagonist's hands, and as he reads he can't help but recognize parallels in his own life that begin to awaken the repressed memories he had of his real life before the attempted suicide.

The madness in which he wrote the book; the re-write that obscured some of the real connections, and his own psyche are the reasons the protagonist had to go through the process the movie follows.

Ultimately, upon remembering everything that happened, what he did, etc., he decided to try, as much as was possible, to "make things right" by admitting to the crime, freeing the wrongfully convicted, and serving the time for his crime, all on the basis that he wanted to send a clear message about justice from father to son, and this is a satisfying conclusion.

The meandering path the movie followed to get to that point may not have been perfect, and the somewhat preachy tone of the narrative followed by the final, imposing Biblical quote from Numbers 32:23, "your sins will find you out," may (rightly?) have left a bad taste in some viewers mouths. Of course, we get it that his guilty conscience had him subconsciously obsessing over that ominous text hanging over his head, and into his confession or, at least, into the book based on his confession, the writer littered the narrative with references to "the Number(s) 23(rd verse"). Um, kinda.

But, the resolution that a crime that had not been properly solved was now clear and a person who owns up to his guilt and anticipates a life of clarity after facing his consequences with the full support of his family appeals to one's inner sense of rightness and goodness and honesty and justice. And we need more of that in this world.

Have we become so jaded and cynical in the current state of affairs in our world today that such purity is hard to appreciate? If so, that's a shame.

Of course, this movie isn't perfect (few are). I think that the manner in which the protagonist's mental condition was presented is a tad curious. Could someone go through such a change of condition over time, from a confused young man from a home with a father who commits suicide; a man who kills his girlfriend in a jealous rage, buries her, frames an innocent person to take the fall, writes a convoluted confession infused with pseudo-numerological rantings and then jumps to his intended death to a psychiatric hospital for therapy who leaves the institution "cured" even though he has no recollection of what happened? What life could he possibly have? He settles down in a job which he keeps, has a beautiful wife, a cool teen kid for a son, and mental and emotional stability with no relapses, no recurring nightmares that seem oddly real, no nothing until the book shows up through "providential" circumstances? 

Are we really to believe the dog saw him bury the woman, understood this to be wrong, and showed up at the restaurant knowing the protagonist would be along and would allow the dog to lead him to the grave, which triggered no recollection in his mind at the time? And, why would his wife remove the bones of the girl? If she knew nothing of his past, she'd have no motive to "protect him" from anything, since she would not have assumed the bones had any connection to him.

There are indeed some curiosities and oddities fraying the fabric of the over-all execution of the story in film. A perfect movie this is not. But there's a forest of good to behold here, if we can get past some of the detail at bark level on a tree here or there.

Sure, I may be over-selling, or trying too hard. But, like I said, I like Jim Carrey's work, and any movie that has the gumption to send the audience to the parking lot with an Old Testament Bible text that speaks to a sense of accountability for one's actions gets bumped one letter grade higher by me automatically.

Besides, I've seen plenty stupider movies get much better reviews than this one, and that seems sad to me. A movie with a moral message should perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt, in my opinion, because too much time is spent on senseless entertainment that often must pander to the lowest sensibilities (toilet humor, sex, violence for the sake of it) and leaves nothing to inspire any sense of higher ideal.

This movie attempts to inspire a higher ideal - execution notwithstanding, the attempt itself is appreciated.

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