Hollywood’s Shaman: The Films Of Jim Carrey


“The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part.”
—Miguel de Cervantes

Now, throughout your own life, you might encounter many of the same themes—play many similar “roles”—over and over again…


Further: if you study these themes and roles close enough, you’ll notice they seem to “fit” particular archetypes. (Archetype=a recurring symbol or motif often found in paintings, films, books, and mythologies in general) So for example, you may find that, as a sardonic contrarian who often challenges the status quo, you embody the Trickster archetype—such as characters as varied as Bugs Bunny, Coyote from Native American mythology, and the even the comic book character Deadpool.

A great way to better understand this idea is to take a look at the filmographies of certain prolific actors and actresses. They will often seem to play variations of the same role repeatedly. When you think of things like typecasting and so on, that would pretty much make sense.

But now take it all another layer; add the element of universal and eternal archetypes to the mix.


This is what we are going to do now with Jim Carrey, who seems to portray mostly:

  • Innocents/Idiots/Fools
  • The Insane, especially those with Split-Personalities and Alter-Egos (Unstable Sense of Identity)
  • The Displaced (Unstable Sense of Reality)
  • Chosen Ones (Communication with/Manipulation by/Powers Received from Higher Forces)

These categories relate to one another, and, taken together, can be the characteristics of the Shaman (or, if you prefer: Magician, Artist, Holy Man, etc).

Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994)


Carrey plays an innocent/idiot/fool with the power to communicate with animals. Like the Fool of the Rider-Waite Tarot, he is accompanied by dog:


The Mask (1994)


Here is another innocent/idiot/fool with a split-personality and insane alter-ego (unstable sense of identity)—who is manipulated by, and receives power from, a Higher Force. Like the Fool of the Rider-Waite Tarot, he is accompanied by dog:


Dumb & Dumber (1994)


You guessed it: he is another innocent/idiot/fool. Also rides in a vehicle in the form of the Fool’s best friend: the dog.

Batman Forever (1995)


(Read my analysis of Batman Forever here!)

Edward Nygma is an innocent/idiot/fool with a split-personality and insane/criminal alter-ego (unstable sense of identity), who is manipulated by, and receives power from, a Higher Force. Holds wand like the tarot’s Magician:


The Cable Guy (1996)


Innocent/idiot/fool with split-personality and insane alter-ego (unstable sense of identity). Like tarot’s Magician, wields wand/conductor of energy (cable/electricity).

Liar Liar (1997)


Innocent/idiot/fool manipulated by Higher Force. This film marks a (temporary) end to the out-and-out “Fool Cycle” of Carrey films, and moves into the more blatantly shamanic narratives, where some sort of “divine” presence seems to possess/manipulate him (Bruce Almighty, Yes Man, etc.).

The Truman Show (1998)


Innocent/idiot/fool manipulated by Higher Force and displaced (unstable sense of reality).

Man on the Moon (1999)


Innocent/idiot/fool (see: Latka character) manipulated by Higher Force (genius). “Insane,” with split-personality/alter-ego (unstable sense of identity) Tony Clifton. Manipulator of reality. See Tarot card The Moon (indicating split personality between fool Latka and wolfish Tony Clifton):


Me, Myself & Irene (2000)


Innocent/idiot/fool with split-personality and insane alter-ego (unstable sense of identity).

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)


Assumes alter-ego (Santa Claus) to commit criminal acts (robbing Whos). Like the Fool of the Rider-Waite Tarot, is accompanied by dog. Note the striking similarities between the tarot Fool card and the movie poster art:


The Majestic (2001)

themajestic.jpgInnocent/idiot/fool with split-personality and alter-ego. Displaced (unstable sense of reality).

Bruce Almighty (2003)


Innocent/idiot/fool manipulated by, and receiving power from, Higher Force. This is the signature Carrey “divine comedy,” where he deals with the ramifications of being “touched” directly by “God” or some other unfathomable divine force.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)


Innocent/idiot/fool who is displaced (unstable sense of reality) by “mind machine”—shades of his character in Batman Forever:


And, just to drive the point home, here is an image from a photo shoot with Carrey using the same theme:


Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events (2004)


Character who assumes alter-egos and disguises.

Fun With Dick And Jane (2005)


Displaced, assumes criminal alter ego and disguises.

The Number 23 (2007)


(Read my analysis of The Number 23 here!)

Innocent/idiot/fool in communication with Higher Force and is displaced (unstable sense of reality). Alter-ego is insane and criminal. Note writing on his face as in Liar, Liar:


Horton Hears A Who (2008)


Innocent/idiot/fool in communication with “Higher Force” (the invisible Whos).

Yes Man (2008)


Innocent/idiot/fool manipulated by Higher Force. Basically a remake of Liar, Liar and Bruce Almighty.

I Love You Philip Morris (2009)


Innocent/idiot/fool with split-personality and struggling with sexual identity (unstable sense of identity). Assumes criminal alter-ego.

A Christmas Carol (2009)


Displaced, in communication with, and manipulated by, Higher Forces.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)


Innocent/idiot/fool with power of communication with animals (essentially, a remake of Ace Ventura)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)


(Read my analysis of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone here!)

Has “special powers” from “Higher Forces.” Literally now, the Magician from the tarot.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)


Yet another alter-ego character…coming full-circle from Batman Forever in another green comic book outfit.

Dumb And Dumber To (2014)


Revisiting the Fool, albeit an older one; his shaggy beard prefiguring the one he would later wear in public for a while.

The Bad Batch (2016)


Carrey plays a character called the Hermit—here, in this latter bunch of films, we are seeing the actor’s progression from the fresh-faced Fool to the Hermit archetype of the tarot.

True Crimes (2016)


Again with the beard!!! I don’t know a lot about this movie, other than that apparently it’s “outside of type” for Carrey. He plays a police detective who investigates a murder eerily similar to that in a novel (an important plot point from The Number 23). Could it be that the Fool has made his almost full journey through the archetypes, and the latter-Carrey is more reflective and world-worn?

Kidding (2018)


In a “full-circle” of sorts, a freshly-shaven Carrey once again teams up with his Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. Carrey, as a children’s TV host, communicates with “animals” and other fanciful creatures; all the while navigating the “Chapel Perilous” between fantasy and harsh reality.

Jim Carrey has played similar, interrelated characters for most of his career. On one hand, he is far from pigeonholed as an actor. Take his performances in the wacky comedy Ace Ventura and the thoughtful drama Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of his roles concern unstable identities, unstable realities, and contact with Higher Forces (whether it be the Judeo-Christian God, Loki, microscopic Whos, or a self-help guru). Above all else, he seems to embody the characteristics of the Shaman.

The Shaman…

…communicates with animal spirits:


……is initially thought insane by his/her tribe for talking to invisible beings:


…can access other worlds/dimensions:


…is often initially thought of as the village idiot:


…is often initially thought to be mentally ill:


…is often the village outcast:


…talks to spirit-guides:


…talks to “God”:


…can be “possessed” during ritual:


…can wear a mask during ritual:


…can have special abilities:


…can be compelled to say out-of-place words by the gods:


…can bring catharsis/exorcism to the village:


…and returns from vision quest with valuable new information on the true nature of reality:


Perhaps every actor and actress is, in essence, a shaman, temporarily taking on another identity and leading the audience into a mass catharsis/exorcism through his or her performance.


2 thoughts on “Hollywood’s Shaman: The Films Of Jim Carrey

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