The opening credits list just a few coincidences, which may or may not be true, involving the number 23. Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Al Capone’s prison number was 23. There are 23 letters in George Herbert Walker Bush’s name.
Carrey plays an average Joe, Walter Sparrow. He’s an animal control worker (Ace Ventura anyone?) whose wife (played by the always awesome Virginia Madsen) gives him a book for his birthday (February 3) that chronicles a detective’s paranoia centering on a conspiracy involving the number 23. Walter gets increasingly disturbed by the fact the novel seems to follow his life events through the character Fingerling. As he continues to read about Fingerling’s growing paranoia, Walter’s own paranoia seems to intensify. He dreams about stabbing his wife and genuinely worries he might hurt his family although his wife refuses to believe that he would ever cause any harm.
This movie had so much potential that wasn’t cashed in on (especially since there is an element of truth behind this particular conspiracy), which is more upsetting than all the little ludicrous details. However, director Joel Schumacher took the “conspiracy” idea way over the top. Yes, those license plate numbers do add up to 23, and yes, those two guys’ jerseys do say two and three. We get it! The number 23 rules the cosmos. By the end of the movie, the happenstances were laughable instead of being chilling.
At least the dark imagery Schumacher used when portraying Fingerling’s world was stunning. The woman who initially introduces Fingerling to the world of paranoia lived in a stark-white, almost futuristic apartment which contrasts sharply with Fingerling’s cold and shadowy home.
Madsen also did an excellent job shedding her wholesome image to play Fingerling’s love interest, a raven-haired woman with a disturbing sexual fantasy where her lover stabs her with a “pretend” knife.
However, Carrey was ill-cast as both Walter and Fingerling. Though Carrey has proved he can do drama in movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Majestic, Schumacher would have done better to cast a lesser-known actor.
So if you’ve been keeping track of the math, not only does The Number 23 add up to being not scary and not that good, but also don’t expect to come out as a changed person with a newly found obsession with numerology.
What’s even creepier is the fact that I have 23 paperclips in my drawer. Weird.