In the 1990s, Jim Carey was at the height of his career. I barely remember him from his In Living Color days. That show was among others, like The Simpsons, that my mom would not let my sister and I watch. There were performances Carey reprised on In Living Color that trickled down to a relatively sheltered kid like me. Still, it was not until Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) that his true stardom began. This first hit cemented his zany antics and his ability to shift between extreme emotional states that would later lead to some questioning his sanity. He immediately followed up his comedic tour de force in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective with another film that pushed the barriers of his talents further. This is, of course, The Mask (1994).
In The Mask, Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carey) is your every-day bank employee and all around nice guy. He had purchased two tickets to a sold-out concert, intending to go with a female co-worker he has a crush on. But when she relates that she has a friend in town who she cannot leave alone, he gives her both and tells them to have fun. He is that kind of guy. He also allows himself to be conned by the mechanics working on his car, and gets left outside the popular Coco Bongo club by his friend, Charlie Schumaker (Richard Jeni). Walking home after his ancient loaner car from the garage finally gives up ghost, Stanley spots a form he mistakes as a man floating motionless in a river. It is in this attempt at heroism that he discovers the Mask. He waits until he is home, having to deal with his nagging landlord Mrs. Peenman (Nancy Fish), to finally don the Mask. Once he does so, in a whirlwind he is transformed into, essentially, a green-faced mischievous god who can do seemingly anything. It is later mentioned that the mask brings out the inner-most desires of whoever wears it. For the shy and reserved Stanley Ipkiss, it turns him into a frenetic, cartoon like jokester, mimicking the shenanigans of the classic animated Warner Brothers characters he enjoys watching in his spare time. Literally. In dealing with Mrs. Peenman first, then the mechanics, Stanley is able to contort his body, bounce off walls like a rubber ball, conjure anything out of thin air, and is impervious to bullets. When he awakes the next morning, he has Lieutenant Mitch Kellaway of the Edge City police knocking on his door, called there to investigate a disturbance reported by Mrs. Peenman. At first he thought what had happened last night was a dream, but Kellaway’s questions confirmed its realness for him. After denying any knowledge of the events, he decides to toss the Mask out of the window, only to have it come whistling back through the opening after he leaves for work. The next night he is drawn to a newspaper article trumpeting the previous night’s performance of the lovely Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz). He had met Tina previously when she came into the bank ostensibly to open an account. In actuality, she was casing the establishment for her then boyfriend, the mafia connected Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene), who also runs the Coco Bongo. Thinking he does not have a chance as himself, he decides to woo her as the Mask. In order to get into the trendy establishment where she sings, he decides he needs to rob his own bank in order to grease the palms of Dorian’s goons. He does so on the same night that those same goons were about to steal from the bank. Thus they arrive back to the club in time to see the Mask doing a dance number with Tina. Dorian’s men point out the Mask as the culprit. Employing his usual Bugs Bunny tactics, Stanley is able to get away, but not before pissing off a group of gangsters. Also, a clue left behind at the Coco Bongo leads Kellaway back to Stanley. Feeling like things were getting out of control, Stanley decides to turn to newspaper reporter Peggy Brandt (Amy Yasbeck) to try and clear his name. Unfortunately, she turns him over to Dorian for the bounty he had put out Stanley, and now Dorian has the Mask. Making matters worse, the police decide to arrest Stanley for the bak robbery. Did I mention Stanley’s amazing dog? His pet follows Stanley to the jail, and is able to get inside and free his master. Stanley then takes it upon himself to save Tina from Dorian even though he no longer has the Mask. But Tina is able to get Dorian to take the Mask off long enough to get it into Stanley’s hands, and the day is saved.
One of the central questions asked in The Mask is whether or not we are happy with who we are as individuals. There is some psychological mumbo-jumbo from a psychiatrist named Dr. Arthur Neuman (Ben Stein) about the masks people wear. Such a piece of costuming allows the wearer to become someone else, with or without becoming a demi-god. God would want you to see it differently, for He loves that which He creates, and He created us all. Therefore, we have no need of being someone else because we are reflections of His perfect creation. But I get why people do it occasionally. Stanley’s life is evidence of how people just sometimes want to be somebody else. The film, though, shows the terrible price that can come with trying to be something we are not. Importantly, though Tina is initially attracted to the Mask, it is as his true self, Stanley, that eventually wins over the beautiful lounge singer. People can see through such obvious facades, even if it is that of somebody like the Mask. The one who sees most immediately through it is God, and we all have to meet Him one day as we truly are.
Still, I did not laugh much at The Mask. Maybe this is a function of the years between now and when the film first came out, but I am weary of his style of comedy. I actually prefer his more subdued roles, which will always be trumped by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Still, The Mask is not a bad movie. My tastes are not the end all, be all, of what makes good cinema. And it has some great lessons on power, its costs, and the wisdom of giving it up. So even if you do not laugh like I do at the film, there is something to be gained from seeing it.