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Jim Carrey refuses to promote Kick-Ass 2, on the grounds of violence. Can you do this?

Oddly, he has yet to distance himself from this movie. (Melissa Moseley Photo)

Jim Carrey attracted a great deal of attention on Monday when he tweeted that “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to e,” he tweeted. “I meant to say my apologies to others involve with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”

First you have to get past the jokes. If Jim Carrey is going to start apologizing for and distancing himself from his movies, this seems like a weird place to start. What about “Yes Man”?

Mother Bear in the Berenstain Bears used to say “It’s never too late to correct a mistake,” but I’m not sure she was right. Sometimes, it is too late to correct a mistake, like 60 years into a marriage as you dandle a grandchild on your knee, or after the constitutional amendment has passed, or the panicked few seconds after the pornographic tweet goes out, or the moment after you stab King Duncan.

When in the process of making a movie is it too late to correct the mistake? When you are reading your script? When you are sitting in the screening room? When you are taking your check? Carrey points out that production wrapped before the Sandy Hook shooting, and since the shooting he’s come out vigorously for gun control the way any celebrity advocate comes out vigorously in favor of anything, that is to say, making Funny or Die parody videos and spouting off on Twitter.

There are two questions here. There’s the film violence question, and there’s the question: When is it too late to object? If you kill a bear and bring it home for everyone to eat, can you then announce that you refuse to partake in bear meat on principle?

Unlike weddings, there is no specific point in the making of a film when someone turns to everyone in the room and says, “All right, speak now.” When do you speak? And what speaks louder — your magnified image on the screen, or your 140-character insertion of distance?

The idea that just because someone has appeared at some point in movies with violence in them, he is thereby prohibited from ever changing — or, as people prefer to say, evolving — in his viewpoint on Sensational Onscreen Ultraviolence is patently absurd. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson used to say, when people questioned his evolving stances on things.

But is this a case of too little evolution, too late? Is he actually kick-starting a discussion by refusing to promote the movie, or does this protest amount to little more than vacationing indignantly with his paycheck?

This is an interesting discussion, as Alyssa Rosenberg points out at Think Progress, and we should have it. As Kick-Ass executive producer Mark Millar points out, the Kick-Ass comic books and movies try to offer a commentary on film violence. “This is fiction and like Tarantino and Peckinpah, Scorcese and Eastwood, John Boorman, Oliver Stone and Chan-Wook Park, Kick-Ass avoids the usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures and focuses instead of the CONSEQUENCES of violence, whether it’s the ramifications for friends and family or, as we saw in the first movie, Kick-Ass spending six months in hospital after his first street altercation. Ironically, Jim’s character in Kick-Ass 2 is a Born-Again Christian and the big deal we made of the fact that he refuses to fire a gun is something he told us attracted him to the role in the first place.

“Ultimately, this is his decision, but I’ve never quite bought the notion that violence in fiction leads to violence in real-life any more than Harry Potter casting a spell creates more Boy Wizards in real-life. Our job as storytellers is to entertain and our toolbox can’t be sabotaged by curtailing the use of guns in an action-movie. Imagine a John Wayne picture where he wasn’t packing or a Rocky movie where Stallone wasn’t punching someone repeatedly in the face. Our audience is smart enough to know they’re all pretending and we should instead just sit back and enjoy the serotonin release of seeing bad guys meeting bad ends as much as we enjoyed seeing the Death Star exploding.”

But is the movie too seduced by its own spectacle? The “serotonin release,” really? At what point do you stop being a commentary on something and start just being that thing? Look at the response to “A Clockwork Orange.” When you depict something on screen to vilify it, how do you make sure the audience can tell that’s what you’re doing? When do you go from saying “totes” ironically to actually saying it? At what point is ironic racism or ironic sexism or violence-with-commentary just — well, racism or sexism or violence, full stop?

Jim Carrey has ignited an interesting conversation. Now he’s already coming under fire for being “hyper-hypocritical” — boycotting your own movie? Are you boycotting the paycheck, too? Maybe he should, if he’s serious about the conversation. Otherwise, it might come across as someone who is Shocked, Shocked To Find That Violence is Going On In Here. (Your winnings, sir.)