There are 23 things wrong with this movie.
Or maybe there are 24. Or 165. To be honest, I lost count. Despite this film’s best efforts, it never persuaded me that there was anything special about the number 23.
It began a moody but nicely stylish little thriller with some striking visuals, strong performances, and a provocative premise. Animal control officer Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is late meeting his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) on his birthday, February 3 (2/3, get it?). While she waits, she wanders into a small used bookshop and begins reading a novel about a man obsessed with the number 23. She buys it as a birthday gift for Walter, and he gets caught up in the book and its parallels to his own life. He begins to be haunted by the book, envisioning himself as its main character, a detective. He dreams that he is committing crimes.
And he begins to see 23’s everywhere. Everything adds up to 23. But nothing adds up.
Perhaps that is in part because it’s never clear whether 23 is a good number or a bad number, a blessing or a curse. And then there’s the fact that it’s something of a stretch to tie everything to the number 23. It seems to count if it just connects to 2 and 3 or 32 or to some other number that — gasp! — has some relationship with the number 23, even if it’s not much more than the fact that they are both numbers. There’s reason number one. It’s hard to make something so vague feel menacing. Reason number two: the obviousness of the fake-outs. Reason number three: the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-ness of the characters’ decisions in trying to track down the mystery. Have these people never heard of Google? Or the public library? And don’t they know that you’re not supposed to investigate creepy places at night by yourself? Reason number four: there are several major logical flaws in the big reveal. Reasons number five through twenty-three: if you take the first two reasons and the last three reasons and put the numbers next to each other, it will say 23. This makes as much sense as anything in the story.
In other words, 23 is an unlucky number for Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, and anyone who goes to this movie.
Parents should know that there are a number of disturbing themes and images in the movie, including graphic, bloody suicides, murders and mental illness. Characters and a dog are in peril and some are injured and killed. There is brief strong language, and there are some sexual references and situations, including some bondage and masochistic fantasies.
Families who see this movie should talk about their own superstitions and the idea of apophenia, the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, for which human brains are hard-wired. This is what makes it possible for us to read, make maps, and develop strategies, but it is also what sometimes has us projecting patterns on to Rorschach ink blots and other random shapes. For a delightful and very provocative discussion of this issue, see Michael Shermer’s lecture at Ted Talks.
Viewers who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Dead Again and Identity. They may want to read the Wikipedia entry on the superstion surrounding the number 23.