We don´t know what lies beyond the end of our life, and we might never really know. Every struggle and human endeavour, every mission to the stars, every grand step for humanity – they are all fed by the impregnable instinct of reaching the limit and going beyond it; of finding ourselves at the edge of the all possible known and venture fearlessly into a great unknown.
Chris Smith´s recent documentary, Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, tells the story of such a venture. Featuring a lengthy interview with actor Jim Carrey, the film recalls the method acting work the actor did for his 1999 drama Man on the Moon, a biographical account of the life and career of late comedian Andy Kaufman. Extensive footage of Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman and his histrionic alter ego, Tony Clifton, is edited here to document Carrey´s uncompromising method acting throughout the shooting of Man on the Moon. As Carrey chooses to be in role at all times, the entire production set appears to be taken over by the spirit and charm of Andy Kaufman, so much so that his own family come to meet Carrey-as-Andy and maybe try to get some needed closure.
Jim Carrey´s method acting has been undeniably unique, strong, and impactful, reaching indeed beyond the limits of acting as genre, and setting up camp in the realm of the real. In this sense, the actual subject of the documentary is the act of performance, along with its capacity to transport audiences and performer alike into a different dimension. If Jim is the actor and Andy is the play, what is the beyond, and why is it great? Why would we attempt a glimpse at it, if it came with the disruptive quality of replacing one identity for another, as Carrey´s method acting might suggest? Jim Carrey delves into something beyond himself, and maybe even beyond the object of his play. Although he mines Kaufman´s character and tries to recreate some of his public stunts, Carrey engages new audiences, creates new interactions, and receives new responses. There is no recreating of moments from Andy Kaufman´s life and career, there is just a brave attempt at creating equally moving and genre-bending moments in Jim Carrey´s.
If performance and acting are forms of freedom – from oneself, from one´s own history, body, and future – method acting seems to be a pinnacle of freedom, more specifically the kind that allows escape, disappearance. For those on the set of Man on the Moon, as well as for Andy Kaufman´s family members, Jim Carrey routinely disappeared, to allow Kaufman´s legacy to be manifest. The boundary between reality and performance is clearly erased, and in the space of this erasure, new possibilities arise – to imagine the beyond, to even grasp it, if lucky, to halt the flow of this time, and opt for another.
Why, though, is it important that this documentary is being produced now, nearly two decades later? What has changed, what is changing, and how might this film contribute to our understanding of this current change? Our world today is constantly on the edge, alternating between colliding versions of reality and truth, yet fiercely holding on to a chimera of self-endorsed confidence. Humanity seems to only be able to delve into a reflection of itself. Wealth craves more wealth, precarity brings on more precarity – there is no escape, there is no beyond. This might be the challenge for us today – to find our method, to find the one play and role that can elevate us, and keep in the role until this real becomes another real. The real beyond.
Word: Elena Stanciu