Bruce Almighty

Jim Carrey doesn’t really cover any new ground in Bruce Almighty (2003), but the film reaffirms the comedic genius that was his in the first place. The film marks Carrey’s return to the bread-and-butter that originally made him famous, in contrast to his more “serious” efforts to extend his acting range (which efforts have varied from the dismal –The Majestic — to the utterly sublime — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
Given divine powers, Carrey’s character Bruce (a disgruntled TV news reporter) goes off on a power binge whose utter narcissism is only matched by its infantile pettiness and lack of imagination. Unable to conceive the divine decadence of a Nero, Caligula, or Heliogabalus, Bruce contents himself with driving a new sports car, parting the Red Sea (a la Cecil B. DeMille) in a plate of tomato soup, and getting revenge by pulling a monkey out of a bully’s ass and causing his newsroom rival to babble as if he had breathed in a tankful of helium. Never has self-indulgence been so lacking in grandiosity. Bruce doesn’t have the manic energy of Ace Ventura; but like Ace and so many other Carrey characters, he is driven by an unconscious whose sole contents seem to be fifty years of television. No wonder the urges that roil in his raging id are nothing more than cheap special effects and lame one-liners. Above all, Bruce is characterized — like so many other Carrey personae — by a cringe-worthy need to ingratiate himself with everyone, and especially with his stereotypically whiny and long-suffering girlfriend (a role played, appropriately enough, by the sitcom queen herself, Jennifer Aniston).
I suppose my remarks are sufficiently snide that they could be read, in Adornoesque fashion, as a critique of the terminal mediocrity of American popular culture (a culture that is basically televisual, even when it is being enacted in the movies). But I don’t mean it that way at all. There is nothing mediocre about Jim Carrey. If you ignore the sappy moralizing and self-congratulatory complacency in which Bruce Almighty is wrapped, and focus just on Carrey’s physical and verbal performance, you will find it (as always, when he does comedy) utterly astonishing. It’s a miracle of embodiment. Every grimace, every twitch, every inflection, every pause conveys the predicament of the character — his narcissism without a self to be narcissistic about, his desire for recognition by others without any sense of otherness to pin that desire onto, the utter saturation of his inner experience by bland, public generalities: in short, the predicament of the quintessential postmodern “man without qualities” — every grimace, twitch, inflection, and pause of Carrey’s incarnates this predicament with energy, grace, intensity, and precision: so that nothing could be more profound and singular than the utter absence of depth and singularity that Carrey is depicting.
“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise” (Blake).

2 Responses to “Bruce Almighty”

  1. A Day in the Life

    I’m starting to feel the pressure of fall semester (I start teaching on Tuesday), so blogging may vary over the next few days. Here a few topics that I’d planned to write about that never quite became full blog entries:School’s…

  2. A Day in the Life

    I’m starting to feel the pressure of fall semester (I start teaching on Tuesday), so blogging may vary over the next few days. Here are a few topics that I’d planned to write about that never quite became full blog…