It has taken Hollywood over fifty years to do it, but in THE MAJESTIC, they finally get their revenge on HUAC—the House Un-American Activities Committee,
which in the 1950s wreaked havoc in Hollywood with their search for communist subversives.
Jim Carrey plays Peter Applewhite, a Hollywood screenwriter working on B pictures, but he’s on his way up. Hollywood is his town, he tells us, and he’s destined
for better things. The problem is, according to the feds, Hollywood is also a locus of communist activity. They’re determined to expose the communist scourge,
and discovering vague connections from his past, they mark Peter as a red. Though no one around him will say the word “blacklist,” communist or no, Peter’s
career is over.
Realizing he’s washed up in this town, Peter hops in his car, resolving to drive north as far as his gas tank will get him. He doesn’t get very far before his car
crashes into a railing and plummets into the river below. Managing to free himself from the wreckage, he flails helplessly downstream, smacking his head on the
bridge footing. He’s found washed ashore the next morning with no ID and a case of amnesia.
A resident of the nearby town finds Peter, where he is promptly mistaken for Luke, a GI who never came home from the war. We learn the town lost a lot of boys
in World War II, and the town’s spirit never really recovered. They NEED a hero, and they want it badly, even though many of them know it doesn’t quite add
up. So they believe Peter is Luke, and Luke’s lonely father (Landau) especially believes it’s so.
The town folk rally behind “Luke” and together they reopen their old theater, the Majestic. You don’t need to be smacked on the head floating downstream to
figure out which direction this picture is heading. Sure he gets the Majestic back on its feet and falls in love with his old sweetie, but Peter’s past catches up with
him in no time, and the irony is obvious. After the feds track him down, Peter is seen as a loathsome commie shamelessly masquerading as a true American who
fought and died for his country.
It’s truly frustrating to watch a film with so much potential squander its great ideas through under-developed story lines. The fantasy of abandoning the past and
creating a new life, intentionally or not, is never fleshed out as well as it could be. And the idea that we define ourselves and the people around us through the
medium of film is also flubbed. But more than anything, the fakery of the sets kills the mood of THE MAJESTIC. Lawson is a clichéd version of a 1950s town.
The sanitized backdrop refuses to let us to absorb the message the film keeps trying to repeat over and over, that movies can sometimes powerfully move us and
unite us. How can we connect with people who run around on sets so perfectly nuanced that not one leaf on one tree looks out of place?
But there are a lot of good things about this movie that justify buying a ticket. Despite what seems like foolish naivete, wanting to believe someone lost has come
back, and having faith even after being forced to reconcile oneself with the truth is a powerful sentiment. And the reminder people died fighting for principles of
freedom, only to have their government attack those same principles a decade later is a sobering theme. Normally this would seem like a cheesy plot contrivance,
but in the context of today’s headlines, it’s a timely reminder of how cherished our freedoms should be. And finally all the panel members of HUAC come across
as hypocritical buffoons on a fanatical search to weed out communists while making a mockery of all the virtues they purport to believe. It’s taken Hollywood fifty
years to show them up for the fools they were, but when it finally comes, revenge is sweet indeed.