“Well, if I had my choice, it wouldn’t start at all. It would already have been. And it wouldn’t end either.”
— Jim Carrey, in Jim & Andy (2017)
Jim Carrey is far removed from the pop culture supernova he once was, exploding upon the zeitgeist with a booming voice and gyrating pelvis. Now he is relegated to the periphery of the spotlight.
If you have spotted him since his last major Hollywood turn (reprising one of his first successes 20 years later) in Dumb and Dumber To, it was likely on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, in the art documentary I Need Color, on talk shows promoting his Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here or on the red carpet at this year’s New York Fashion Week.
With each appearance, he waxes more and more philosophical, sounding as esoteric as Matthew McConaughey in a car commercial. His latest re-entry into the popular canon, with the Netflix documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond…, offers a glimpse behind the proverbial mask.
Documentarian Chris Smith opens the full-length doc posing a question to its star, “So, Jim. How would you start this movie? The now fully-bearded Carrey with an air of calm and serenity more often attributed to Buddhist monks, ponders his reply and aptly turns the question on its head: “Well, if I had my choice, it wouldn’t start at all,” he says into camera. “It would already have been. And it wouldn’t end either,” ending the latter with a grin. “You know?”
The Netflix-VICE Documentary Films production focuses more on Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kaufman—both on and off camera — during filming of the 1999 Miloš Forman-helmed Man on the Moon. Though fans can catch moments of the actor speaking truthfully to his own life, fame and trajectory.
“Jim Carrey is a great character and I was lucky to get the part.” — Jim Carrey, on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2017)
“But I don’t think of that as me anymore.”
A fresh-faced Jim from a 1983 interview eerily reveals a peek into his future. Speaking about the possibility of becoming so famous he’d not be able to walk down the street, the wide-eyed up-and-comer smiles, puts on a goofy voice and says, “Won’t that be fun?” then pulls a face as he laughs. “Where it’ll be impossible to walk anywhere without being recognized.” He then pauses and looks down in subtle reflection.
It’s juxtaposed with a cut to the documentary’s current interview with a now-pensive Carrey where he breaks down the fame game (in regards to Andy playing Latka on Taxi, but also speaking to acting in general): “At some point, when you create yourself to make it, you’re going to have to either let that creation go, and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are, or you’re gonna have to kill who you really are…” [a pause as he looks straight into camera] “…and fall into your grave grasping onto a character that you never were.”
Later in the film, he returns to this character vs. real person theme, “I think sometimes people that exist so completely in their character, and maybe not know how to get out of it, or how to take another road, might take the ultimate road, you know? Where they, uh… they have to actually leave the, uh… the planet. You know, to get out.”
The subtle reference to death here is not the only that surfaces in the film. There are obvious allusions to Kaufman, his family and mentions of Carrey’s own father. Then, talking about his Saturday Night Live audition, Carrey recounts pulling up to the building to the sound of someone shouting “Don’t jump!” to an NBC page who was “trying to get the nerve up to kill himself.”
Suicide plays a major role in the pilot of I’m Dying Up Here, which finds a young comedian finally making it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. And in Carrey’s own life, his ex-girlfriend Cathriona White died by suicide in 2015.
In Jim & Andy, Carrey talks about how the trajectory of his movie career seems to mirror his real life. “Everything speaks to me. It’s the weirdest thing. Every movie I’ve gotten in my life, I could trace any movie, and I could tell you somehow how that was the absolute manifestation of my consciousness at that time.”
Referencing The Mask and his early career: “It’s as if I went into a fugue state and Hyde showed up…When there’s a thousand people with their eyes on me, and they hand me a microphone, Jim goes away and Hyde comes out…It’s a loving Hyde that just wants everybody to party and have a good time, you know. But it’s a Hyde nonetheless and I feel like sometimes afterwards, like ‘Damn, I lost control again… to him.’”
On later films: “Eternal Sunshine was so much, I was very heartbroken. And that was really just about that feeling of, ‘My God, I have to erase this from my mind.’ And also the feeling that that person had erased you. I felt like I had been erased.”
“I was Truman, I was in the bubble at that time.” He later adds “At some point you have to live your true man. Truman Show really became a prophecy for me. It is constantly reaffirming itself as a teaching almost, as a real representation of what I’ve gone through in my career.”
One is left to wonder then, in true Truman Show fashion, if this aligned career-life path is the timeline, “How’s it going to end?” Does he, like Truman, laugh and take a final bow before walking off into the door in the film’s sky?
Smith gets some sense of closure from his documentary subject, when asking how playing Kaufman changed him and where he feels he stands today. Carrey responds with a glimmer of enlightened hope, “I truly feel like if you ask me where I live right now, where the real me is, I would say that there’s a quiet, gentle seat in the universe that seems to contain everything, and that’s where I am.”
“I don’t have to go anywhere. That’s fascinating to me now, the disappearing.” — Jim Carrey, in Jim & Andy (2017)