Jim Carrey’s created quite the buzz with his tweets Sunday night denouncing Kick-Ass 2. Well, sort of denouncing it. Mostly. Take a look:
I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to e
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) June 23, 2013
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.
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) June 23, 2013
It’s a weird move for a lot of reasons. Weird for the timing, weird for what he says. And weird because, while I don’t quite doubt Carrey’s authenticity (it doesn’t strike me as a PR stunt, though I’ve been wrong before), the whole thing seems a bit off.
Let’s acknowledge two things right up front.
- The Sandy Hook Elementary shootings were an undeniable tragedy, one that will likely live on in the zeitgeist of this period of history in much the way Columbine has.
- Regardless of your end opinion of Kick-Ass (the original one, though it’s safe to assume the sequel will be similar), I think we can all agree that the movie is rather gleefully violent.
Let’s also be unafraid to say that Kick-Ass is a weird movie. It is at once utter fantasy and utter reality; it is an imagination of how super heroes would probably have to act to survive more than a couple minutes in the real world. Big Daddy’s visual similarity to Batman is no accident; his gun-toting self is a counterargument to the feasibility, and perhaps even the rationality, Batman’s age-old moral absolute. Kick-Ass himself is the only character endowed with superhuman powers, but his is merely ability to take getting the stuffing beat out of him and not really feel it. The superheroes are decidedly goofy-looking – Kick-Ass is wearing a wetsuit, Hit Girl has a purple wig, and at one point we actually see Big Daddy paint on eyeblack to cover where his mask won’t, a direct jab at the movie incarnations of Batman. Don’t even get me started on Red Mist. We are meant to laugh at them, and at the absurdity superhero costumes in general while simultaneously celebrating the ideas such colorful characters stand for. To that end, the movie is an incredibly smart comedy, drawing humor out of simultaneously celebrating and making fun of comic book superheroes.
But then we get back to the question at hand with Carrey’s comments (and I promise I’m coming back around to his tweets): the violence. Even seeing Big Daddy shoot Hit Girl while she’s wearing a bulletproof vest is kind of funny for the utter ridiculousness of it all. But it’s at this point that the movie begins to betray a key tactic.
Kick-Ass is a film based on shock value. When it hammers home its point that superheroes could not actually exist in the real world, it does so mercilessly. And, to its ultimate fault, joyfully. The idea is still sound. We celebrate superheroes, even in all their violence, but could we celebrate ones that were also killing machines? Could we celebrate what the movie holds up as the logical and necessary end to such figures? Our expectations are subverted (all the more so when it’s Hit Girl doing the gleeful killing), and we in the audience are are left not knowing how to react. It’s an awkward moment. So we laugh. We try to diffuse that tension. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the movie fails when it doesn’t call us out on it. Instead, we get a climax and conclusion that make it very clear the film is laughing too, and without any of the nerves we’re feeling as we watch.
All this is to say that, Sandy Hook tragedy or not, Jim Carrey should have known what he was getting himself into. Kick-Ass doesn’t leave behind a bitter taste because of its proximity to Sandy Hook or any other violent event. It’s unpleasant because it never suggests we should have the same reaction to obscene violence in the movie that we do in real life. It never calls us out on our own hypocrisy, which it could certainly have done while still showing audiences a good time. Carrey is maybe trying to minimize the PR backlash when he says he’s “not ashamed of [Kick-Ass 2],” but the comment strikes me as pretty contradictory to his first tweet.
Maybe all I’m really arriving at is the oft-echoed sentiment that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to make us try to remedy the problems in our culture. And I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that movies, or games, or any other medium should be blamed for actions which are undertaken by people. But we also can’t pretend that the mass-media is above reproach.
Carrey’s tweets seem indicative of a culture insufficiently thoughtful. He seems to be grasping at something he’s not quite sure is there. I’m not saying that we need to analyze and over-analyze every movie we ever see. Movies are fun. Stories are fun. We should have fun with them. But stories are also important, and we’re well-served by exploring why certain ones make us feel the way they do.