I'm guessing that the team behind The Majestic had no idea their project would arrive in theaters during a time of national crisis. If they did, they're absolute geniuses. Either way, they've created a film that's going to generate some serious discussion, even though it's set 50 years ago, at the height of the better-dead-than-red McCarthy era.
Peter Appleton, the hero of director Frank Darabont's latest '50s-era epic ' after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile ' would have been quite happy to keep his head above the political fray, content to write B-movie fare (Sand Pirates of the Sahara, anyone?) and cash a paycheck. Appleton, winningly played by Jim Carrey, goes about his business until he's blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for some meaningless undergrad indiscretions.
Despondent, Appleton takes a drive, topples his car off a bridge, smacks his head...and wakes up near a little town called Lawson, Calif., with no memory of who he is.
Lawson is the sort of hamlet that might have existed in a Frank Capra or Preston Sturges movie, except that those two giants would have probably winked a few seconds after dreaming it up. Unbelievably, Darabont plays his Americana straight, from the town's gee-whiz mayor to its world-class clarinet-playing geek.
The townsfolk think Peter looks awfully familiar. Harry Trimble (Martin Landau), the owner of the town's dilapidated movie-house, the Majestic, knows he does. He's convinced that Peter is his long-lost son Luke, one of the 62 young men Lawson thought died during World War II.
"The magic is all around you. All you have to do is open your eyes to it," Harry tells Peter, who, even though his mind's a blank, is having a little trouble buying into dad's plans to reopen the picture show. If you don't want to open your own eyes to the magic, you could just sit back and let Darabont smack you upside the head with it for three hours instead. The Majestic is a big, wet, sloppy kiss to the power and glory of Golden Age Hollywood. Every vista is postcard-perfect, every moment just seconds away from an orchestral swell. The reopening of the Majestic is the event that rouses the townspeople from their grief and gets them working together. As she begins to fall for the guy who isn't the one she thought she lost, Adele (Laurie Holden), Luke's childhood sweetheart, even confesses that the movies ' specifically, The Life of Emile Zola ' inspired her to become a lawyer. Hooray for Hollywood.
Hooray indeed, at least until Pete's memory returns and the Commie-hating Feds catch up with him. The film's final third yanks Carrey into the courtroom, allowing him to give the bow-tie-sporting Joe McCarthy stand-in what-for with a rousing oratory aimed straight at Oscar voters (who'll probably stand up and applaud, just like the on-screen reporters in the courtroom gallery did. God bless America).
It's this scene that finally sends the film sailing over the rainbow. It's also, of course, a historical whitewash of epic proportions. Most Hollywood screenwriters, even with the Constitution firmly behind them, were too scared to risk jail and financial ruin when the McCarthyites presented the easy option of rolling over on a few Reds instead.
And that's exactly why The Majestic, for all its feel-good sentiment and First Amendment boosterism, is actually dangerous stuff. The film's patriotic message is unimpeachable ' no way I'm cynical enough to suggest otherwise ' but the fact that it's delivered in a package utterly awash in illusion distorts it. There's mumbo-jumbo inherent in the film's believe-what-you-need-to-believe orientation, suggesting that sentimental Hollywood-style reality is preferable to plain old reality. Even after Peter's unwitting deception is revealed, the residents of Lawson are more than ready to accept him as the person he never was in the first place.
It's almost a shame to see Carrey giving such a terrific performance in a picture as baldly propagandistic as this one. Another step on his road to serious-actor status, The Majestic gives Carrey a chance to display the dramatic skills he used to such great effect in The Truman Show (whose distorting-reality theme had much more integrity). The guy's got the star power to carry a movie, even one that doesn't call for him to screw up his face and waggle his butt-cheeks.
At a time when witch-hunts of a different sort are occurring in towns across the U.S., The Majestic is probably going to be taken by many at face value ' as a flag-waving throwback with timely resonance. Don't buy it. No matter how slickly you dress it up, blind patriotism is no better than McCarthyism.