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Dumb... or Dumber?

In 1994, Dumb and Dumber, undoubtedly one of the true comedic masterpieces of our day, hit theatres and instantly won the favor of millions of fans, most notably myself. At the time, although I was amused by the superficial slapstick humor of the film, I didn’t pick up on the subtleties and intricacies of the movie until I watched it the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th times. These subtleties are what make the movie so enjoyable and intriguing as I watch it time and time again.

A question that I (and many others, I’m sure) have had since my initial viewing is which character is “dumb,” and which is “dumber?” Now, I’m not even sure the Farelly brothers, in all their genius, actually meant for the words dumb and dumber to be attached to one character each. However, that can’t stop me from wondering which character should be associated with each word. And, since it can’t stop me from wondering, it certainly can’t stop me from writing an article on it. Let’s start at the start, and maybe we’ll figure this thing out:

The opening scene introduces both Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunn (Jeff Daniels, whose role in this movie is not remotely similar to any other role he has ever had). Lloyd appears to be both “book dumb,” as we see from his misinterpretation of Austria for Australia (“let’s put another shrimp on the barbie”), and socially inept, which is obvious as he picks up Mary. My favorite lines during this scene were “I hate goodbyes,” accompanied by the overly tight hug, and “just go,” as Lloyd puts his finger to Mary’s lips. Harry, on the other hand, comes off as simply “street dumb” when he attempts to feed the dogs sausages and hot dogs in the back of the shaggin’ wagon. But it’s too early to make any decisions.

As they walk back to the apartment after their respective failures, Lloyd mentions “I fell of the jet way again.” This is telling, since falling off the jet way for the first time is perhaps excusable, but falling off multiple times indicates a fairly high level of stupidity. Soon after, Lloyd shows his social ineptitude again as he get “robbed by a little old lady in a motorized cart” when he tries to break a dollar to purchase an issue of “Rhode Island Slut” (“Delaware Slut” is far superior, anyway). Moreover, hardly anything valuable was stolen, only the beer and useless toys that he purchased (the cowboy hat was sweet, though, I’m not going to lie). Early projections have Lloyd “dumber” at this point.

After Lloyd convinces Harry to head to “a place where the beer flows like wine,” Aspen, he redeems himself with the savvy maneuver of selling materials to Billy Enforcee, the blind kid. Even if he does prove to be a total asshole, he was able to pick up some much needed cash for the road. And Lloyd’s theory that simulating the running motion in a car “feels like you’re running at an incredible rate” does have some truth to it, and therefore cannot be considered a dumb statement.

During the country restaurant scene, Lloyd may actually pull back even with Harry. Not only does he remind Harry to toss salt over his right shoulder to avoid bad luck, he cons Seabass into picking up their tab. Harry, however, seems “street dumb” once again, as he foolishly tosses the entire salt shaker over his right shoulder, thus instigating the Seabass conflict. (A little side note on the restaurant scene: Does anyone understand the “Excuse me, Flo?” joke at the beginning? Any ideas would be appreciated.)

As they escape, Harry uses some quick thinking to avoid a potential disaster, advising Lloyd to go in the empty beer bottles. Then, as he is being stopped, Harry uses one of my all-time favorite lines.

Cop: “Pull-over!”

Harry: “No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks.”

The next notable scene is after they pick up “the gas man” on the side of the road. Lloyd almost single-handedly drives the gas man to shooting them. First, he illegally triple stamps a double stampie; second, he produces “the most annoying sound in the world;” third, he begins he and Lloyd’s rendition of “Mockingbird,” which would have led to their demise had it not been for the conveniently placed Mexican family of hitchhikers.

At the next restaurant, I gotta give my man Lloyd some love, Stu Scott-style. Although he may not have realized it at the time, Lloyd’s challenge to Harry to eat the hot pepper prevented them from being poisoned. Follow me, here. Since Lloyd challenged Harry, they both ate the peppers and quickly went nuts, spraying ketchup and mustard in their mouths, thus embarrassing the gas man enough that he went outside. Because he went outside, they were able to sneak in several hot peppers into his sandwich, causing his ulcer to flare up. And after Lloyd “accidentally” fed the man a healthy dosage of rat poison, Lloyd smoothly asked for the check so they could escape a potential arrest. These do not seem to be the actions of a man worthy of the title “dumber.”

Harry loses some smart points during his ill-fated conversation with the lady at the gas station, whom we later find out is a cop. Not only does he begin with “Are those skis yours?” but he follows with “Both of them?” Despite this, Harry still has a chance at scoring the digits until he unknowingly lights his leg on fire and he asks her to “give me the damn number!” But… if he hadn’t lit his leg on fire, he wouldn’t have knocked Seabass unconscious and saved Lloyd from certain death (or at the very least, “manly love”). So, at this point I have Lloyd and Harry equally dumb on my scorecard.

I find the next sequence of events intriguing. After another rest stop, Lloyd takes over driving responsibilities, but makes an unfortunate wrong turn and drives “a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction.” Although this is an undeniably dumb move, Lloyd shows his resilience and heads back toward Aspen. And “just when you think [he] can’t get any dumber,” he trades the van straight up with some kid for a moped and “totally redeems himself.” Because the moped gets 70 miles a gallon, they can easily make it to Aspen. In fact, since the van probably only got about 10 miles to the gallon, the moped trade may have actually saved them more gas money than if Lloyd had not made the wrong turn in the first place.

However, my friend Rob and I have proposed that if it was simply a van and not a shaggin’ wagon, Lloyd may not have been able to trade it straight up for the moped. The van was a 1984, and the bluebook value would certainly be low on a car in that kind of shape. The novelty of the shaggin’ wagon (I mean, it looks like it’s peeing when you fill it up with gas. What more can you ask for?) may have been the only reason that he was able to trade it, and so Harry should be credited for purchasing the doggie-styled vehicle.

In the next couple of scenes, the scorecard remains fairly even. Although Lloyd is unable to remember Mary’s last name (he actually says it unknowingly as he tries to remember) and we find out that he had an extra pair of gloves (not necessarily a dumb move, but he does pick up a few more asshole points), he prevents Harry from tossing the briefcase in the lake, thereby allowing them to use the money inside. The way Harry and Lloyd spend the money was certainly unintelligent, but this never ended up hurting them since they didn’t have to pay it back.

Lloyd, however, makes a critical mistake at the preservation society dinner. By asking Harry to introduce himself to Mary first, not only does he blow his own chances with Mary, but he sets off a chain of events that nearly leads to his death. If he had introduced himself first, the odds of him and Mary lasting very long would have been slim (remember, the odds of them ending up together were set at a million to one). Once he realized this, he and Harry most likely would have left for home with only a broken heart and two classy tuxedos. So on my card, Lloyd is now slightly dumber with only about 25 minutes to go.

The tables turn quickly, however. When he lies to Lloyd about having a date with Mary, Harry indirectly provokes the infamous “Turbo Lax” incident, which in itself is a stroke of genius by Lloyd. And although Mary still fell for him, Harry was about as smooth as a young Samuel Powers on his first date with Mary. Yet again, Harry and Lloyd are dead even on Larson’s scorecard.

After Lloyd and Mary get trapped in their room by Nicholas, the owner of the briefcase, Harry makes the Microsoft Agile Play of the Day by getting shot in his bulletproof vest, then recovering in time to fire six shots at Nicholas. And although he misfired on all six, he bought enough time for police to barge in and save the three. With only minutes remaining in the movie, Lloyd is now 6.2 compu-dumb points ahead of Harry.

Harry does not go quietly into the night, sending the Hawaiian Tropic girls away at what seemed to be the last possible moment. The magnitude of this mistake more than makes up for his lifesaving effort earlier, and with a mere 30 seconds left in the movie, Harry is in the lead. This one is over. The band is out on the field.

But Lloyd pulls a Lee Corso-esque “not so fast, my friend.” In Stanford-Cal fashion, Lloyd chases down the bus and, as time expires, sends the bus away for a second time. And after the referees conferred, it became official.

“Lloyd… has won!”


Final score: Harry Dunn – Dumb, Lloyd Christmas – Dumber

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