Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.
You can find much of the same proselytising in a speech Jim gave to the graduates of the Maharishi University of Management’s class of 2014, accompanied by just enough shtick to make the pill an easy swallow. Some have claimed Carrey’s been dabbling in DMT (to the extent that a fake movie with him playing Terence McKenna was announced), but it appears he’s merely a proponent of the Maharishi’s good old money-making Transcendental Meditation, a practice that mostly avoids a rocky ride thanks to some notable and vocal media advocates (the most famous being David Lynch). Andy Kaufman was also an ardent TM-er, having learned it at college in 1969, even training as a teacher a couple of years later. It’s a connection so loud and obvious, you wonder that the filmmakers didn’t at least mention it in passing…
Carrey’s clearly been on a very personal journey of questioning the status quo for a while, both internally and externally, in ways that have passed largely unnoticed (GM foods) or registered howls of media outrage (vaccinations), en route gradually disappearing off the map as a viable movie star. In Chris Smith’s documentary on the making of Man on the Moon, he comments “I have no ambition” (although not asked directly about his stalled career), but while his explanation for the transition is vague enough to be understood (It came “in the middle of confusion, disappointment, the fruition of all my dreams…. and being unhappy”), it’s evident his ambition is still there, and the need to be adored, if not to make money (look at it him talking about his painting during the MUM talk, essentially seeking the same audience approval he always has, and lapping up the rapturous responses). I don’t doubt his genuineness when he states (again to MUM) “I’ve often said, I wish people could receive all their dreams and wealth and fame so that they could see that it’s not going to be where you find your sense of completion” but the question is whether he’s an effective purveyor of that message; you’re in a dangerous and vulnerable place when you announce that you have answers, often setting yourself up to be torn down (as happened to Tom Cruise, who managed to weather the storm, ultimately by shutting the hell up).
With Carrey on a voyage of discovery – I’m assuming he doesn’t think he’s reached his destination – it’s valid to question the reasons for this documentary appearing now. One might assume, given the rehearsed script he trots out, that it was a self-initiated platform, since he’s the guy with the footage, and that it merely confirms – one might offer in evidence his recent New York Fashion Week red carpet appearance – that he still feeds off and craves attention. Spike Jonze and Smith attest otherwise, that he made no stipulations, but there’s an inevitable sense that Carrey’s to-camera perspective moulds the doc, bringing in such areas as the trajectory of fame and life under the lens (The Truman Show is flashed up several times).
Carrey famously wrote himself a $10m cheque and gave himself five years to collect, and his creed on this, set out in both Jim & Andy and the MUM talk, is that when he was a kid – he cites how his father was a great comedian, eventually laid low by the need to forsake pursuing a talent for breadwinning in the sterile role of an accountant, and then even losing his that – he prayed for a bicycle and one turned up at the house (someone had entered his name in a raffle) and “From then, whenever I wanted something, I manifested it”. His technique (not detailed in the doc) is “letting the universe know what you want and are looking toward while letting go of how it comes to pass” (while throwing in such alluring aphorisms as hope being a beggar that walks through the fire while faith leaps over it).
And it’s this Noel Edmonds-like acumen for manifestation/ positive thinking/ cosmic ordering that led, by his account, to discovering the key to personal success, the realisation that the public want to be free from concern and “I’m gonna appear to be the guy that’s free from concern”. And behold, a star was born: “It’s as if I went into a fugue state, Hyde showed up… I have a Hyde inside me, that shows up when there are people watching”.
This ability was perfect for inhabiting the characters of Andy Kaufman, where the line between performance and reality was constantly blurred. Carrey has it that “Andy tapped me on the shoulder and said “Sit down, I’ll be doing my movie” with the consequence “And no one knew what was real and not real half the time. I didn’t know what was real and not real”. Individuals including Taxi co-stars Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch, Paul Giamatti and beleaguered director Milos Forman, who called Carrey one night – the actor was in character most of the time, but I’m guessing not on the phone – complaining “I’m so exhausted you know” at having to deal with Kaufman and alter ego, boorish nightclub singer Tony Clifton, all day.
The latter’s antics included insulting Ron Meyer, showing up at Amblin (Spielberg was absent), and Kaufman’s long-time collaborator Bob Zmuda (Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies was also present on the set of Man on the Moon, shooting the behind-the-scenes footage seen here) visiting the Playboy Mansion as Clifton and spending several hours there hoodwinking Heff before Carrey nonchalantly showed up.
Carrey’s both engaged and forthcoming as a talking head, but also vaguely aloof from the experience. Some have suggested he’s “totally obnoxious”, which I can’t say was my take (although he’d probably accept it if charged). He comments “On an anarchist level, it’s funny” of Clifton, who I can’t really get behind any more than Borat, but unlike, say Leto as the Joker, it seems to fit the bizarreness of Kaufman himself that Carrey should have been so disruptive, that, the performance aspect feels like a genuinely deserved comeuppance for the arrogance of thinking you could make a trouble-free Kaufman biopic (which no one was going to see anyway, even if it had received glowing reviews). You can accuse Carrey of going too far, but giving him the role was essentially an invitation. Wrestler Jerry Lawler’s protestations that he and Kaufman were good friends, which wasn’t how Carrey treated him, are really neither here nor there in terms of a mission statement to carry the anarchic baton (one of my favourite comments comes as “Tony” is told, that, when filming is finished, eight or nine people will sue for mental stress; “And that would be different than a regular production?” inquires Clifton, blasé).
There are odd moments, even in that take-no-prisoners context, though, such as Kaufman’s daughter, who never got to meet him before he passed away, spending an hour in conversation with Carrey as Andy on set, a recollection that brings a tear to his eye. Kaufman’s family evidently felt Carrey was channelling something too, so you might understandably see the whole charade as a hugely inappropriate presumption on the comedian’s part, but from the footage it’s entirely plausible that, as he suggests, he and everyone else was caught up in something overwhelming and immersive. Carrey’s mantra was “How far would Andy take this?”, but he’s also clear that his being in situ for this doc and revealing the tricks of the trade is a sign that “I’m not the same personality as Andy. Andy would never tell you”.
You can entirely see that Carrey’s on to something when he says of the footage, “I often wish that had been part of the movie”; it would have better reflected the essence of what Kaufman was about, something Forman’s formal film could not hope to capture. Carrey had seized on recording footage as a reaction against electronic press kits, and reports how Universal didn’t want to allow any of it to surface “so that people wouldn’t think I was an asshole”: ‘We don’t want people to think that Jim’s an asshole’”. The doc still feels like a dare in that regard.
But, while the footage is fascinating, it’s Carrey’s current head space as refracted through its prism that is more so. Tremendous self-awareness doesn’t necessarily equate with being in an optimal place, and one wonders at a certain stagnancy that allows the same lines to be parroted describing his developed consciousness and mission three-to-four years apart. Is he really in a place, or is he clinging to the idea of it? Carrey comments that each of his roles has reflected an “absolute manifestation of my consciousness at that time” (the funniest account might be that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, meeting with Michel Gondry at a point where he was heartbroken; Gondry told him “Oh my God, you’re so beautiful… right now. You’re so broken… I love this. Please don’t get well”. “That’s how fucked up this business is”, Carrey grins). Combine that with his belief that each of us is an avatar we create (“This isn’t real”), and his very TM statement “All we really yearn for is our own absence”, and it’s difficult not to see the “drug high” some recovering TM practisers have attested to before the come down. When he says, in closing, of his Kaufman transformation, “I wonder if I could do that with other people… what would happen if I decided just to be Jesus”, he’s only half being cheeky.
And there’s the problem too that, behind the wacky delivery, the Maharishi message is somewhat jaded currency (“Thought as an illusory thing”, his understanding “I was the universe, no longer a fragment of the universe” and that “I want to take as many people as I possibly can” along with him to that rapturous state). The key to a salesman for a system of self-awareness is whether you think you’d like to be where they are, and neither Carrey nor Lynch offer that kind of appeal (to me, at least). Jim mutters abstractly about “abstract structures” (the labels society and family attach to us), avowing “I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy”. But is he? Since his next lines are, however self-effacingly (this is a guy who made a movie about the number 23, so part of him buys it), that he’s “ready for the end times to occur and whatever the hell is going to happen. I’m just great”. You wonder if he is. Great. Are you just great, Jim?
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.