Intro: Art and psychology are intrinsically linked. The best art illuminates (or attempts to) the human condition, which is, after all, at the core of psychological investigation. This linkage is perhaps best evidenced by looking at popular cinema. While film does not always offer the most insightful perspective on human psyche, it is an effective gauge of the public mindset, if for no other reason than its uncommon hold on the culture's collective imagination. For good or bad, cinema (and television) has far surpassed the popularity of all other narrative art forms. One can convincingly argue that this is partially due to the ease with which most cinema can be digested, when compared with, say, a novel. However, much of film's popularity can certainly be attributed to its overwhelming raw power. Film is a visceral medium, or to paraphrase Canadian director David Croneberg, "Film has teeth." Movies are potentially an effective instrument by which we can examine our modern psychological landscape, both personal and social, because more than any other medium, it enables us to experience life from another person's vantage point, to walk in their shoes, as it were. Queendom's Reel Psychology series will highlight some of the films that most effectively (or perhaps ineffectively) demonstrate a psychological bent.
Editor's note: The articles comprising this series are written in a decidedly informal, personalized format. In other words, they are opinions and express only the views of the writer. If you have a problem with the views expressed, please, feel free to express yours by dropping us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Released 2000. Comedy directed by the Farrelly Brothers
Me, Myself & Irene is yet another outrageous comedy from the masters of bad-taste, the Farrelly brothers. As anyone who has seen any, or all of the Farrelly brothers films can attest, there are no taboo topics, no sacred cows, and no sensibilities safe from their particular brand of irreverent, scatological, slapstick satire. In other movies, they have exploited such hypersensitive topics as Down syndrome (Something About Mary), conjoined twins (Stuck on You) and obesity (Shallow Hal). With Me Myself & Irene they have added the subject of mental illness, more specifically (though inaccurately), schizophrenia, to the list.
The film tells the twisted tale of Charlie Baileygates (played by Jim Carrey), a Rhode Island State Police trooper. Charlie is the classic example of a good-natured chump, a pathetic pushover who avoids confrontation at all costs. As a result he is constantly taken advantage of by others, including his unfaithful wife who runs off with an African-American little person driving a limo. Charlie is left to raise his three over-sized, foul-mouthed yet good-natured children on his own.
In an amusing twist, the children are of mixed-race, even though Charlie and his ex-wife are as white as Wonder bread. While the audience of course makes the connection between the children's race and the limo driver, Charlie is oblivious to this fact. Either his trusting nature does not allow him to see the obvious, or he has repressed the knowledge deep in his psyche, along with all the other affronts and indignations he suffers on a daily basis.
It is this tendency to repress his feelings that sets up the main premise of the movie. It seems that Charlie's inability to express his true emotions and natural impulse to avoid personal conflicts has resulted in his being afflicted with a multiple-personality disorder. In order to vent his pent up hostility and emotional conflicts, Charlie's subconscious has created the alternate personality of Hank. Hank is the extreme opposite of Charlie; whereas Charlie is apologetic, self-deprecating and submissive, Hank is an egotistical, violent blowhard who thrives on confrontation.
When Charlie is faced with conflicts that are too emotionally charged for his fragile ego to handle, Hank emerges to deal with matters. Unfortunately for Charlie, Hank's methods of conflict resolution owe more to the philosophy of Atilla the Hun than that of Gandhi and usually have catastrophic consequences, which Charlie is left to contend with. The situation is further complicated by the fact that not only does Charlie have no memory of what Hank has done, he is also unaware of his existence. The subsequent plot developments, involving a cross-country excursion, a budding romance, and a pursuit by hit-men, are of little consequence, as they exist primarily to provide extreme situations that provoke Charlie's hilarious transformations into Hank.
Carrey occupies the center of the movie, so those who are not a fan of his comedic style might wish to avoid the film altogether. However, they would be missing out on a real treat. As Charlie, Carrey delivers a performance of unexpected depth. Though his characteristic broad, physical comedic talents are still very much in evidence, the portrayal is tempered with a healthy dose of pathos and a certain amount of heightened realism. Carrey succeeds in creating a character who engages our sympathies, even as we laugh at his suffering and the outrageous predicaments he finds himself in. While both the Charlie and Hank personae are certainly extreme exaggerations, the Charlie character is convincingly "real" in depicting a painfully shy and socially inadequate individual just as Hank is authentically menacing. It is to Carrey's credit that his talents have developed to the point where he can deliver a performance that is both over the top, and restrained when required. Some of the scenes involving the Renée Zellweger's character and the scenes with his children in particular, showcase Carrey's range as an actor and his ability to convey genuine tenderness and affection in his performances.