To be honest, I never really got Jim Carrey. Growing up, as friends obsessed over the 2000 live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas every holiday season and laughed hysterically at 1994’s The Mask, I’d force a chuckle or two. However, upon seeing the 2007 psychological thriller The Number 23, my opinion of the actor greatly changed. Rather than his usual over-the-top comedic delivery that I always found so un-comedic, Carrey changes gears, portraying a man who transitions from a seemingly normal guy into one that’s deeply troubled by the constant presence of a certain number in his life. As The Number 23 celebrates its 15th anniversary on the clever release date of February 23, 2007, let’s take a look back at Joel Schumacher’s creative film about past lives, obsession, and harsh truths.
For those who aren’t familiar with The Number 23, the film centers around Walter Sparrow (Carrey), an animal control officer, husband of Agatha (Virginia Madsen), and father to Robin (Logan Lerman: Shirley 2020). Walter leads a pretty normal life, at least until a runaway dog named Ned causes him to be late meeting Agatha. While waiting, Agatha waltzes into a used book store where she starts flicking through a blood-red novel called The Number 23 by Topsy Kretts. Agatha urges Walter to read it as well, but instead of simply enjoying the story as she did, he becomes obsessed. The character in the book, Fingerling, has experiences that are uncannily similar to his own. Walter convinces himself that Topsy Kretts must know him.
Things get darker in the book when the number 23 begins haunting everyone, including Fingerling. Everything from his birthday to his name adds up to the number, and he’s unsure whether it’s a blessing or a curse. As he continues reading, Walter sees the number 23 in everything, too.
Over the course of the film, viewers witness a drastic downward spiral, which includes nightmares about brutally murdering Agatha just as Fingerling murders a girlfriend. In the end, it’s revealed that Walter is, in fact, Fingerling and Topsy Kretts. Turns out, he wrote The Number 23 years ago as a suicide note. The number was affecting him so badly that he jumped from the balcony of his hotel room. But Walter survived. Thanks to the impact of the jump, his memory was wiped clean of his former self. That is, until Agatha visits his old mental institution and discovers the truth about her husband. It wasn’t until Agatha’s revelation that I also understood Walter’s past. For a moment, it’s even suggested that Agatha is the true identity of Topsy Kretts.
Despite receiving some pretty low ratings, The Number 23 is one of those movies that left me guessing for most of its 90-minute runtime, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Number 23 doesn’t have any jumpy moments or visually frightening scenes, but it doesn’t need any of that. It’s a riveting mystery that poses many enjoyably confusing questions. Who the heck wrote the book? Is it actually about Walter? And why is that number so significant?
Of course, The Number 23 has some cheesy moments throughout. Take, for example, the author name of Topsy Kretts, a fancy way to say “top secrets.” While certainly eyeroll-worthy, it’s a fun addition to the storyline. There’s also the idea that everything, from colors to important dates, equals 23. Some of Walter’s conclusions to this theory are a stretch and, unless the viewer is exemplary at quick mental math, some of his calculations will fly over a few heads. Yet one calculation—two divided by three equals .666, which is known as the number of the devil—explains why the regular occurrence of 23 might not be such a great thing.
Overall, The Number 23 is a must-watch for anyone who loves a good mystery and wants to see a different side of Carrey. He does a stand up job at showcasing Walter’s steady loss of touch with reality, as well as his redemption at the end. Walter realizes he’s able to make a conscious choice to not let a simple number overpower his mind.