Actor Jim Carrey makes regular use of Twitter for political discussions, and yesterday, his political views intersected with his movie work in a way that should make for an interesting addition to the summer blockbuster cycle. “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence,” he tweeted. “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.” Presumably that means that Carrey’s taking himself out of the press tour for Kick-Ass 2, in which he plays the hyper-violent self-appointed superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes, a vigilante who makes liberal use of an attack dog and a baseball bat, though not guns, to take out people he deems to be villains, and who teams up with Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Mark Millar, who wrote the comics from which the movie is adapted, has responded to Carrey’s decision not to promote the movie with an impassioned public letter that makes two related and slightly contradictory accounts. First, he suggests that the audiences for violent movies like Kick-Ass know the difference between fictional and real-world violence, and that enjoying the former doesn’t dull the shock at the latter, or make someone more likely to commit it. And second, he argues that Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 function more as a critique of film violence than a celebration of it, suggesting the consequences land harder than the aesthetic pleasure of the visuals.
“This is fiction and like Tarantino and Peckinpah, Scorcese and Eastwood, John Boorman, Oliver Stone and Chan-Wook Park, Kick-Ass avoids the usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures and focuses instead of the CONSEQUENCES of violence, whether it’s the ramifications for friends and family or, as we saw in the first movie, Kick-Ass spending six months in hospital after his first street altercation,” Millar wrote. “Ironically, Jim’s character in Kick-Ass 2 is a Born-Again Christian and the big deal we made of the fact that he refuses to fire a gun is something he told us attracted him to the role in the first place.”It would have been interesting to see Carrey discuss what, exactly, made him uncomfortable with continuing to promote his work in Kick-Ass 2, in part because it would have contributed to the discussion that Millar is starting here. Does Carrey now feel uncomfortable carrying out acts of violence on-screen no matter how they might be framed or interpreted, because of how performing those acts and watching them later make him feel? Does Carrey believe that cinematic violence that’s meant as a critique of the glorification of gun use or physical aggression can’t actually function that way because the aesthetics overwhelm the moral reasoning? There’s a good argument to be made that Kick-Ass meandered back and forth between the self-destructiveness and sheer enjoyment of violence. There’s no question that its main character’s attempts to be a super-hero result from self-loathing — and given his inexperience, self-destructive impulses — but it’s also a movie where a bad guy gets shot out of a high-rise with a rocket-launcher in a display of pyrotechnic creativity.
And it would be nice to know what the wider implications of Carrey’s discomfort with the film are. Does not supporting Kick-Ass 2 mean that Carrey’s going forego his paycheck for the film, and whatever points he might have gotten on the back-end? Will he donate the money he made from the film to gun control advocacy organizations? Will he avoid taking parts in the future where his characters either use guns, or inflict violence on other characters by other means? As a one-off, Carrey’s decision to back away from a single role, especially without a clear line of reasoning between the source of his discomfort — the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut — and the part — a non-gun using villain — doesn’t have much of an impact on our ongoing debate over mass media’s use of violent death as a means of generating narrative stakes, or specifically, the entertainment industry’s willingness to pay gun manufacturers for the rights to use images of their weapons in movies and games. It’s great for Carrey that he has the clout in Hollywood to follow his conscience without serious consequences to his career. But it would be better for the rest of us if we could have a more detailed conversation, and in more than 140 characters, about how we read the movies, and how the movies have taught us how to respond to acts of violence.