To borrow the words of the great Steve Martin, Jim Carrey is a wild and crazy guy. “Madness,” Carrey once said, “is never that far away. It’s as close as saying yes to the wrong impulse.” Some folks like Timothy Olyphant thought Carrey operated on the impetus of the wrong impulse when he stayed in character 24/7 for his role as Andy Kauffman. Olyphant joked that he watched the documentary of that process in character himself and commented, “my character hated it—my character just thought it was narcissistic and pretentious.”
On the other hand, there are some folks, clearly Carrey included, who think that throwing yourself into your art is an essential tenet of life, never mind movie making. As Carrey once declared, “If you aren’t in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret.” These philosophical musings typify his recent appearances, as he told the late, great Norm MacDonald, “I just want interesting things to happen, with interesting relative manifestations of consciousness.”
Then almost as if to cut him off, Ol’ Norm asked, “What’s your favourite movie?” And unsurprisingly, it was a film that deals with the sense of experiential reality and grasping the moment with two furious hands, no matter how maddening it may seem. “My favourite movie? Network. It’s fantastic. Every scene in that movie is a smorgasbord,” the Me, Myself and Irene comedian declared.
And this cinematic smorgasbord has also revealed itself more and more as Carrey got older and grappled with mortality. “Now that I’m a little older too,” he explained to Norm MacDonald who unbeknownst to him was suffering from cancer at the time, “you can look back on that movie and see William Holden and Faye Dunaway in the kitchen scene, and he’s saying, ‘I’m closer to the end than the beginning,’ and ‘Death has become a real thing with definable features’, I mean fuck who writes that? That is incredible.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the film, the 1976 Sidney Lumet-directed picture comes with the synopsis: “A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor’s ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit, but finds that his message may be difficult to control.” The collective gulp that such a premise induces is testimony to the prescience of the picture and shows how long the notion of media narratives has been unfurling.
Frantic and frenzied the film is riddled with a sense of darkness. It is also a film that is championed by George Clooney as a favourite, with the star opining: “I have to say, I think Network is. Network is one of my favourite films of all time. I think Paddy Chayefsky was a genius, I think what he wrote about in 1976 at the time was just a comedy, and everything he wrote about came true. I like that movie, I think that might be my favourite”.
And speaking of that grandiose writing style, Dunaway once said that it was “the only film I ever did that you didn’t touch the script because it was almost as if it were written in verse.” That sense of heightened poetry and hyperbole might defy naturalism but even that sense of parody probably seems relatable to Carrey who has experience life through a lens. With Truman Show overtures and plenty of prying psychology that Carrey holds so dearly, it is easy to see why the star is enamoured by the film.
Nevertheless, it was the hopeful poetry of the people with Rocky which beat it to Best Picture that year, and Sidney Lumet made no public secret of his fury on that front.