stepping through the door

While it could certainly be described as pretentious, narcissistic, or even masturbatory, the Netflix documentary, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond really shook me.

Featuring unreleased behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary explores Jim Carey’s process of becoming Andy Kaufman for the 1999 film, Man on the Moon. While recounting his experience, Carey offers a thought-provoking reflection on the construction of identity:

“At some point, when you create yourself to make it, you’re either going to have to let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are or you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping onto a character that you never were.”

As someone “trying to make it,” I spend much of my time pondering these things. While not an actor, there’s a level of performance to approaching my writing, my art, and my life as a whole. I often find myself straddling the line between doing what I want and what’s expected of me (even if that expectation is absurd). “Who am I really?” I’ll ask myself in these moments, almost always coming up short for an answer.

Of course, there are no answers to a questions like these. The truth is, it’s all a construction. It’s all a fabrication. As Carey says in relation to his 1998 film, The Truman Show:

“I’ve stepped through the door, and the door is the realization that this, us, is Seaside. It’s the dome, this is the dome. This isn’t real. This is a story. There is the avatar you create, and the cadence you come up with, that is pleasing to people, and takes them away from their issues, and it makes you popular, and then at some point you have to peel it away. And, you know, it’s not who you are. At some point you have to live, you know, your true man. You know Truman Show really became a prophecy for me. It is constantly reaffirming itself as a teaching almost, as a real representation of what I’ve gone through in my career, and what everyone goes through when they create themselves, you know, to be popular or successful. And it’s not just show business. It’s Wall Street, it’s anywhere. You go to the office and you put a monkey suit on, and you act a certain way, say a certain thing, and lie through your teeth at times, and you do whatever you need to do to look like a winner, you know. And at some point of your life, you have to go, “I don’t care what it looks like.” You know, ‘I found the hole in the psyche and I’m going through, and I’m going to face the abyss of not knowing whether that’s gonna be okay with everybody or not,’ you know. And at times, just like the movie, they try to drown you in the middle of that abyss. They go, ‘No, be the other guy. You told us you were this guy. You told us you were Andy. You told us you were Tony Clifton.’ You know, no one can live with that forever.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it–to realize it’s all empty and beautiful and none of it really matters? We build ourselves in response to the world we in habit, and when it all comes down, we step through the doorway and surrender what we’ve used to stitch ourselves together.

All this made me think of another tremendous meditation on stepping through the door…