The Majestic
by Jeanne McKinney

The Majestic is a refreshing film about remembering who you are, learning to stand for something, and the meaning of America, with the lead role taken by a Jim Carrey who seems more like his character in the Truman Show than the sometimes off beat comic we see so often.

Enjoying the Good Life
Debonair Peter Appleton is flying high, living the good life as a successful, if somewhat manipulated screenwriter who has learned to please the producers with endless accommodation on his scripts.  He enjoys seeing his name on the movie poster credits of his first motion picture displayed at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, the place everyone wants to be.  

When he walks into the theater with his girlfriend, the lead in his new “B” black and white film, Sand Pirates of the Sahara, clips about the blacklisted ‘Hollywood Ten’ are running on screen.  Ironically, arriving at work the next day to an empty office, he learns that for a flimsy reason he’s on a Congressional hit list himself   Suddenly out of work, his girlfriend dumps him, and his latest ‘A” movie project, Ashes to Ashes goes up in smoke.  

Peter gets drunk and decides to take a ride in his classy vintage Mercedes convertible, asking his favorite stuffed monkey and traveling companion, “What if we take a drive up the coast till the sun comes up or the gas runs out – change our names – start new lives and never come back?”  His car skids off a high bridge as he gives the right of way to a rat, and falls into a river below, the ideal metaphor for his life to that point.

A New Home Town
Washed up on shore, he awakens the next morning to the sound of a dog panting in his face and no memory of his past.  But people in the Norman Rockwell-type town of Lawson think they know him.  A town that has faced the deaths of many of their sons in World War II, they have never quite overcome the loss.  Thus, when they see the amnesiac Appleton who has an uncanny resemblance to one of their fallen sons, they are sure he is Luke, the town’s favorite war hero, believed to have been killed in action

Lawson comes alive with Peter’s arrival, and the audience feels his dilemma.  He does not know whether he is Luke or not, but he is lauded and loved by those who claim to know him, particularly Luke’s father (Martin Landau), and if, in fact, he is Luke, he does not want to disappoint a group who has pinned so much hope on him..  He rediscovers the magic with his old girlfriend and law student, Adele Stanton (Laurie Holden) who tries to spur his memory as the townspeople look on with hopeful anticipation of a lost romance rekindled.  Recharged with life, his father decides to re-open ”The Majestic”, the local town theatre, whose doors were closed when Luke was believed dead. 

Grand Re-opening, Remembering, and Retracing
The story moves a little slowly to get to this point, but it is grand when the Majestic’s lights go up.  Then comes the inevitable time when Peter remembers who he is, as he sees his name on the movie poster for Sand Pirates of the Sahara which is showing at the theater.  At the same time, federal authorities searching for Appleton, ‘the lost Commie’, show up in Lawson to brand Luke, who is really Peter, a traitor.  This devastates the town, who celebrated and cast him as an idol, among other sons of war who have paid freedom’s dues with their lives.  Peter, the outcast, is dragged away to face the wrath of Congress.   

The Trial
In a stuffy room, teeming with frenzied friends of the media, Peter is first convinced to stand up and read a statement, buckling under to the pressure of the Congress and falsely-accused Communist ties.  The former Peter would have probably done it without second thought.  But this new Peter has been wearing Luke’s shoes for too long-and Luke was somebody who knew what it meant to stand for something. Peter hesitates, remembering a  letter, tucked away in a small book of Constitutional Rights – Adele’s parting gift to him.  In the letter, the real Luke authored final words of love and courage that inspire Peter to stand up and “beat the bullies down.”  Under threat of imprisonment, Peter ignores Committee Chair (Hal Holbrook) who won’t stop pounding his gavel.  We see and hear Carrey as never before on screen, when he brings a packed audience to attention, delivering an emotion-filled speech alleging, “the America that Luke and many others gave their life to defend was not present in the room today.”  Refusing to use the Fifth, he stands on the First Amendment of the Constitution, “laws paid for in blood, not subject to negotiation.”  The real Peter Appleton walks out on the committee to an uncertain future.  Frank Kapra would have been proud.

Carrey did a great job in this movie – I felt his frustration and challenge with being an innocent victim of government brutality, a stranger with amnesia who had to fill a hero’s shoes, and someone who had to surmount what he confessed as:  “never seeing a percentage in being a man of great conviction.”  The nostalgic ambiance of the 50’s is well portrayed, although picture- perfect ‘Lawson’ is reminiscent of a not so distant “Pleasantville.”  Technically, the camera creates emotion as a thread of patriotism runs long and strong throughout the movie, a friendly reminder of America’s song since September 11th.  The black and white clips of Sand Pirates of the Sahara are amazing – a better than ever portrayal of the filmmaking style of the 50’s. 

I wonder how hard it is for Carrey to play a role where he doesn’t act funny.  He had me moved to tears as he was addressing the committee of Congress.  This story proves, life isn’t always what it seems, that it can be changed in an instant and never be the same.  Sometimes it takes a bonk on the head to see what we’ve been missing.  It’s also a reminder that despite the mistakes even the government makes, America is the greatest country in the world to live in.  So many men and women have paid with their lives; families have sacrificed, losing loved ones.  This film makes one ponder these things and points out we cannot let any bully, whether it be the government, communist or terrorist take away the freedoms that are rightfully ours, as stated in the constitution, and given to all by God.   It also reminds to not drink and drive. 

He brings life to a small town and honor to his profession.

I really enjoy watching Jim Carrey act a dramatic role.  In The Majestic,  Carrey gives a Truman Show like performance.  Although it’s strange for him to be so serious, he’s a little more predictable.  Each movie has its good, bad and best.  I’ll start with this film’s best as motivation to watch it. 

There are two themes running through the story.  One is patriotic and one, unpatriotic.  Carrey, who is Peter Appleton, a Hollywood writer in the late 1940’s, becomes an innocent victim of both themes.  By way of his profession as a screenwriter, he is caught in the notorious sweep of Congress that targeted Hollywood as a hotbed for communist conspiracy.  

 

 


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