Jim Carrey is one of the most well-known comic actors. His performances in Ace Ventura, Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty is the definitive Jim Carrey we have all come to know and have a love-and-hate relationship with. But what perhaps stands out in the actor’s filmography is not a comedy film, but a dramatic performance. And no, it is not The Truman Show that made me believe that Carrey is the real deal, as far as dramatic roles go.
It was the 2004 romantic science-fiction drama, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that helped Carrey score the home run in the drama genre. Eternal Sunshine was an emotional, beautifully-spun feature that brought out the best of the actor in Carrey.
Carrey was subtle; his strength lay in the silent moments of the film as he played off Kate Winslet’s pixie-like Clementine. Carrey was in fact strictly told not to improvise, as director Michel Gondry didn’t want his character Joel to be over-the-top and loud.
“Sometimes, I had to talk to Kate Winslet in a different room and tell her, ‘Go as big as you want! This is a comedy!’ And to Jim, I’d say, ‘This is a drama, not a comedy,'” Gondry told The Daily Beast. “Jim was very frustrated while we were shooting it,” the director had said.
Eternal Sunshine had its heartbreaking moments as well. One of the scenes where Carrey the actor is painfully ‘real’ is when his character Joel realises that Clementine (Kate Winslet’s character) has had him (Joel) removed from her memory. Carrey executes on screen what we always hope from a good performance–the clarity of emotions; a blend of hurt, shock and surprise. An expression that voices the viewer’s disbelief, ‘How can that happen? How could she do it?’ In that moment Joel tries his best to come to terms with reality. Stunning.
In another scene, when both Clementine and Joel are trying to figure out a way to hide from the ‘eraser guys,’ Joel utters the impossibly cheesy line, “I cannot remember anything without you,” and it makes you think, ‘Why does that line–the line that would have otherwise made me laugh at the silliness of it all–sound so simple, so natural, from this man’s mouth?’ As if what he were saying was a fact, like the air around us.
And for a moment, you even forget that it is Jim Carrey the actor who has done ridiculous films (however loved they were/are) like Ace Ventura, and yes, The Mask. Carrey inhabits his character so smoothly, so intimately that it becomes hard to absorb the truth that it is indeed Jim Carrey who is playing this emotionally charged person on screen. And how many performances of the actor, or any actor (to be fair), has managed to evoke the aforementioned emotion?