Jim Carrey’s Latest Move: Weird, Brave, or Both?

It’s a controversy as old as Hollywood itself with a contemporary twist. Here is a scenario that occurs fairly routinely: an actor to completes work on a film, gets worried that it’s not going to turn out well, and trashes the film in advance of its release. The example that jumps to mind is Marlon Brando, who took a bold, creative risk in lampooning his most iconic performance for Andrew Bergman’s The Freshman and then called the film “lousy” just before it hit theaters, but there are countless others.

Usually, this strikes me as a selfish move, but Jim Carrey’s recent remarks about Kick-Ass 2 are in a different category. Casting Carrey is always a bit of a risk these days – between making creepy internet videos and trying his hand at graffiti, he is not the box-office draw he once was – but nobody expected this. With the movie scheduled to hit theaters in August and the publicity tour ramping up, Carrey announced over the weekend that he will not promote the film or his role in it because of the onscreen violence. Here is his statement via Twitter:

“I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence.”

Then later:

“I meant to say my apologies to others involve with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”

Without having seen the film, it’s hard to comment on Carrey’s decision. One thing is for certain – this is bad business. The studio that hired him will be furious that their film’s biggest star won’t do any interviews in support of the film, and it will surely impact the thinking of other studios and filmmakers who are considering him for their projects. Word travels fast in that town, don’t you know?

But I have to say that I admire Carrey for taking this stand. He has been very vocal about his support for gun control in the wake of Sandy Hook, so we know that his feelings are genuine. It’s a potentially career-killing move, but for Carrey is willing to sacrifice that to raise attention to a social issue that needs help to remain in the spotlight.  Other stars have tiptoed around this issue or offered platitudes, but none except Carrey has been willing to take a principled stand.

Jim Carrey in "Kick-Ass 2"

Jim Carrey in “Kick-Ass 2”

Of course, not everyone agrees. Mark Miller, who wrote the comics the Kick-Ass series is based on, offered a poorly thought-out response. Here’s a snippet:

“As you may know, Jim is a passionate advocate of gun-control and I respect both his politics and his opinion, but I’m baffled by this sudden announcement as nothing seen in this picture wasn’t in the screenplay eighteen months ago. … Like Jim, I’m horrified by real-life violence (even though I’m Scottish), but Kick-Ass 2 isn’t a documentary. No actors were harmed in the making of this production! This is fiction and like Tarantino and Peckinpah, Scorcese and Eastwood, John Boorman, Oliver Stone and Chan-Wook Park, Kick-Ass avoids the usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures and focuses instead of the CONSEQUENCES of violence, whether it’s the ramifications for friends and family or, as we saw in the first movie, Kick-Ass spending six months in hospital after his first street altercation. Ironically, Jim’s character in Kick-Ass 2 is a Born-Again Christian and the big deal we made of the fact that he refuses to fire a gun is something he told us attracted him to the role in the first place. Ultimately, this is his decision, but I’ve never quite bought the notion that violence in fiction leads to violence in real-life any more than Harry Potter casting a spell creates more Boy Wizards in real-life. … Jim, I love ya and I hope you reconsider for all the above points. You’re amazing in this insanely fun picture and I’m very proud of what Jeff, Matthew and all the team have done here.”

Okay. It’s clear that his primary motivation is to promote the film, but there are number of odd, contradictory statements here. He says that he has “never quite bought he notion that violence in fiction leads to violence in real-life.” He’s certainly entitled to that opinion. But why then does he justify that violence earlier in his statement by noting that the film focuses on the “CONSEQUENCES of violence”? If he were not concerned about the impact of violence  at all, he would not go out of his way to promote the fact that he doesn’t sensationalize it.

Further, his comparison to Harry Potter is bizarre and nonsensical. I hate to break it to Mr. Miller, but there are no wizards in real-life, so it is categorically impossible that a movie about wizards would lead to more wizards being created. Are we all on the same page here? The kind of vigilante violence depicted in Kick Ass, on the other hand, is very real. Do a quick Google search for “real-life vigilante,” and you’ll get an endless list of people who, inspired by the movies, decided to take matters into their own hands and ended up in the hospital.

I don’t mean to moralize on the value of vigilantism. And I haven’t seen Kick Ass 2, so it’s hard to referee the argument between Carrey and Miller. But I have a lot of trouble accepting the argument that there is ZERO connection between onscreen violence and real-life bloodshed. Do we really think that children, teenagers, and young adults don’t emulate what they see on the silver screen? If that were the case, why do companies spend millions of dollars on product placement? Why did tobacco companies in the 1930s and ’40s work so closely with Hollywood to ensure that movie stars smoked in movies? Obviously, there are many other factors that contribute to violent crime, but even though researchers have not been able to pinpoint the link between violence in the media and violence in real-life, it seems incredibly short-sighted and even irresponsible to completely write off the impact of the movies and television.

Clearly, Carrey’s decision to speak out publicly against the movie will divide audiences and the media. Some, like me, will find it brave and selfless. Others, especially those who worked on the movie, may be bitter and hurt. Many have already written him off and won’t be moved one way or the other. Those who disagree with him on gun control will likely use this to show the debased morals of Hollywood (“There’s no loyalty there!”), a game as old as Hollywood itself. But it strikes me that everyone should relax a little and look a the big picture: raising discussion about the issue and the movie is good for everyone. In other words, I can’t wait to see Kick-Ass 2 and see what all the fuss is about.

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