Perhaps the greatest lesson of the film is to set higher standards for oneself in the beginning; then the dreams that are realized will truly be worthwhile.

As one looks upon the older face of the former host of “The Gong Show,” the film’s narrator speaks for the last time: “I have an idea for a new show. We will call it ‘The Old Show.’ At the beginning, we will bring out three old men and give each of them a loaded gun. Then we will ask them to tell us about their life, and their unrealized dreams. The last one alive … wins a refrigerator.”  

Credits roll. 

Those few sentences are the best ending dialogue of any film released in 2002. Certainly, those words are depressing. They are also fitting for a film about an individual who always wanted to achieve more with his life.  

The words are powerful, and in a year when many of the best films have been about the desperate search for fulfillment and meaning in life, those few words capture that struggle succinctly. Make no mistake, though: “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is much more than a downer about unrealized dreams. 

“Confessions” tells the story of the man who invented “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and, of course, “The Gong Show.” All of these shows came about because of the cynical worldview of their creator. Barris states in the film that he invented “The Newlywed Game” on the premise that people would embarrass their spouses for the chance to win an appliance. Conceiving these shows and bringing them into reality is an often humorous endeavor. There are fantastic comedic moments in this film. 

“Confessions” also deals with Barris’ other life. Based on his autobiography, the film proposes that while Barris was creating successful television, the CIA also employed him. If this is a lie, it is a clever one, as no one can disprove it.  

It very well could be the sad attempt by someone trying to give his life more substance and significance. However, the film portrays that part of his life as fact. So, in addition to being a reflective film about life, and a comedy about the TV industry, “Confessions” also plays as a spy thriller.    

Finally, the film is a love story. Through all Barris’ struggles, one person remains faithful to him: his girlfriend, Penny. She believes in him even when he does not believe in himself. Perhaps the greatest success of Barris’ life is that he found someone who would love him unconditionally. 

Sam Rockwell gives an amazing performance as Barris. Drew Barrymore is at her best as Penny.  Julia Roberts gives an unusual performance in an atypical role. The greatest achievement of the film, however, goes to George Clooney, who is good in front of the camera, but great behind it. “Confessions” is his directorial debut, and if this is a sign of his talent, may he make many more films in the days ahead. 

A word of caution: Barris has lived a sordid, and sometimes very crude, life. Much of this is portrayed on screen. Network censors made sure his TV work was inoffensive, but that does not mean that Barris did not try. This film has some mature content that may surprise someone remembering only the innocence of his TV productions. 

“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is not a film for everyone. Yet some of the ideas of the film are applicable to a great many lives. In the beginning, Barris only wanted to get something on the air. Later on, he seems to realize that his personal success is measured by a higher standard. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the film is to set higher standards for oneself in the beginning; then the dreams that are realized will truly be worthwhile.   

Roger Thomas is pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content and violence

Director: George Clooney

Writer: Charlie Kaufman (based on the book by Chuck Barris)

Cast: Chuck Barris: Sam Rockwell; Penny: Drew Barrymore; Jim Byrd: George Clooney; Patricia: Julia Roberts; Keeler: Rutger Hauer.

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