A man becomes obsessed with the number 23 after finding a book written about the number. Jim Carrey is the lead character named Walter Sparrow. He works as an animal catcher. He is bitten by a stray dog. This delays him in meeting his wife Agatha (played by Virginia Madsen) and gives her time enough to buy him an unusual book entitled “The Number 23.” When Walter reads the book he is amazed at the similarities with his life and the things written in the book. He starts to believe the book is about his life. The book tells the story of the life of a police detective named Fingerling. As a child, Fingerling discovers a suicide, which he imagines was a murder. This makes him become a detective. As a detective, Fingerling meets a woman he calls the Suicide Blond (played by Lynn Collins) attempting to hang herself. She tells Fingerling, she is cursed by the obsession with the number 23. She sees the number everywhere and in everything. She has notes written about the obsession all over her walls. He spends some time talking with her. He thinks he has convinced her not to kill herself. After he leaves her, she jumps to her death, landing on the street in front of him. In his imagination, Walter becomes the character Fingerling in the book.
Walter becomes obsessed with the number 23 as well. He tells his wife and his son, Robin (played by Logan Lerman) about how everything in his life reduces to the number 23: his social security number, his driver's license, his birth date, the day he met his wife, the day they were married, and even their house address. His son Robin is intrigued by this as well. Walter has dreams where he is acting out parts of the book. Agatha is concerned about Walter's strange behavior. Walter goes to talk with a professor she knows named Isaac French (played by Danny Houston). Professor French tells Walter there is a lot of material on the “23" phenomena and many superstitions about the specific number. Professor French dismisses Walter's thoughts as paranoia. He tells him it is just a game, but many people believe the number 23 is associated with the devil because 2 divided by 3 equals .666 the number of the devil.
In the book, Fingerling has a girlfriend who Walter imagines is the same person as his wife but called Fabrizia instead. Fabrizia has a wild sexual appetite and likes having sex with Fingerling at crime scenes. Fingerling counts her shoes and learns she has 23 pairs. Walter counts the shoes of his wife and she has 23 pairs also. Walter imagines Professor French is a character in the book named Dr. Miles Phoenix. In the book, Dr. Phoenix has an affair with Fabrizia. Walter starts thinking, in real life, Professor French is having an affair with his wife Agatha. In the book, Fingerling sees Fabrizia having sex with Dr. Phoenix in the woods. Walter dreams he wakes up with blood on his hands. Still dreaming he is awake, he learns he stabbed his wife. When Walter really does wake up from the nightmare, his wife is fine and sleeping peacefully next to him. The dream disturbs him so much he gets up and leaves. He checks into a cheap hotel. The desk clerk offers him room 27. Walter asks about room 23. The clerk tells him they have been experiencing plumbing problems with room 23. Walter continues to read the book in the hotel room. He is on Chapter 22 in the book. In the book, Fingerling commits suicide at the end of Chapter 22. There is no chapter 23.
Walter sees the dog he tried to capture before; the one who bit him. He chases it down to the cemetery and shoots it with a tranquilizer gun, while the dog sits in front of a grave marker. The dog has a collar with his name on the tag shown as “Ned.” Walter calculates the numbers of the dog's name add up to 23. A priest, Father Sebastian (played by Ed Lauter) rushes up. The priest tells Walter the dog belongs to the gardener named Barnaby (played by Troy Kotsur). Barnaby rushes up as well. The priest tells Walter the dog likes to sit in the cemetery and guard the graves, specifically the one of a young woman. The priest tells Walter this is why they named the dog “Ned” because it is the name of the guardian of the dead. Walter notices she died on her 23rd birthday, which he tells the priest. The priest says they are not sure, because they never found the girl's body.
Walter does some research on the young woman, who was murdered, named Laura Tollins. He learns she disappeared 15 years before and her boyfriend was jailed for her murder because they found the young woman's bed soaked in her blood, and a bloody knife with her boyfriend's fingerprints all over the knife. Walter goes home, finds Professor French is there with his wife and son. Walter explains all of this to them. Walter believes the book is the confession of the murderer. Walter goes to the prison to see the man, Kyle Flinch (played by Mark Pellegrino) convicted of killing the young woman. Walter confronts him with the book. Flinch denies he killed Laura, says he knows nothing about the book or the number 23 either. He claims he is innocent and if he did write a book, he would not have used the stupid name “Top Secrets.” Walter spoke the name so this is how he heard it, but on the book the author's name is spelled “Topsy Kretts.”
As he is leaving the prison, Walter tells his wife he knows the real killer is still out there. Robin, his son, says he knows how to figure out where the killer is by using the book. Robin found a post office box address in the back of the book, written on a page which was stuck to another one. They decide to send 23 large boxes of foam peanuts to the post office box and see if anyone shows up to collect them. An old man shows up. Walter and his family confront him in the store. The man says to Walter he should be dead. He waves a knife at Walter. The old man tries to escape but Walter tackles him to the floor. Walter demands the old man tell him about the book and the number. The old man tells Walter he already knows the answer. The old man uses the knife to cut his own throat. Agatha insists Walter take Robin home. The old man tells her he tried to get rid of it, it was driving him insane and she should go to the institute. Agatha discovers the old man's hand and arms are covered in numbers. She finds his identification in his pocket. It is from the Nathanial Institute. Agatha calls Walter on the telephone. She tells him the old man died and lies to him saying he said nothing and she did not find out who he was. Agatha goes to the Nathanial Institute. It is a rundown building, which is deserted. Agatha finds the old man's office with his name on the door. She finds 23 written on a box and then the wall. She finds the number 23 written everywhere, thousands of times on the walls. She finds a box marked “W. Sparrow case number 85307.”
Walter counts every 23rd word in the book on the 23rd page and learns it contains a message embedded in the text. It says, “Visit Casanova's Park dig beneath the steps to heaven.” Walter and Robin go to the park, find the area called “The Steps to Heaven” which has 23 steps. They dig. They hear something in the bushes. They find a buried skull. They go to the nearest emergency phone on the road to call the police. The police arrive, but the grave has been emptied. Agatha comes to the park. Walter and Agatha fight on the way home. The dog Ned is in the road near their home. Walter almost runs it over in fit of rage, but stops just short of hitting the dog. Walter notices Agatha's hands are dirty. He realizes her maiden name is Pink which was referred to in the book and also makes up the number 23. He thinks Agatha wrote the book. He confronts her and empties her purse on the counter. She is carrying a large knife in her purse. Walter threatens Agatha with the knife. Robin comes into the kitchen to see what is going on. She admits she and Professor French removed the skeleton, but then says it was Walter who wrote the book. Agatha shows Walter and Robin the box of things she found in the old man's office with Walter's name on it. It contains the original copy of the book as a typed manuscript with Walter's name on it as the author. The other items in the box cause Walter's memories to return. Walter runs.
Walter goes back to the rundown hotel where he stayed before. He goes to room 23. He rips the wallpaper from the walls and finds the handwritten chapter 23 written on the wall. It begins by saying Fingerling is Walter Sparrow. It tells Walter the truth. After his mother died, his father committed suicide leaving behind a notebook filled with the number 23. Walter's girlfriend in college was Laura. Laura liked to play rough sex games, being tied up and having Walter pretend he had a knife. Laura has an affair with her college professor Flinch (who is the guy in prison now for supposedly murdering her). Walter learns of the affair be seeing them have sex at the bottom of "The Steps to Heaven” in the park. Walter believes the number is coming after him and the number is asking him to kill her. Walter tells Laura the number is coming after her and he cannot stop it. She threatens Walter with a knife and tells him to leave her alone. He takes the knife from her and holds it to her throat. She challenges him to go ahead and kill her with it. He says he loves her. She says she never loved him and he is pathetic, just like his father. She takes the knife back from him and cuts him with it. He goes into a rage, stabbing her 23 times. They are in the hotel room number 23. He buries her at the bottom of the steps in the park. Professor Flinch comes looking for Laura. He finds the knife on the bloody bed and picks it up. Flinch is arrested for Laura's murder. Walter goes insane in room 23, and writes the book. Then Walter jumps out of the window. Walter is severely injured but survives and he lost all the memory of what actually happened. After many years in the mental hospital he is let go.
Walter remembers everything. Agatha finds Walter in the hotel room. She tries to convince Walter everything will be all right. He tells her she must leave or he might kill her. She hands him a knife and demands him to go ahead. He runs out of the hotel. The dog is there. Walter stands in the middle of the street. He is almost run over by bus number 23. His son Robin screams at him. Walter steps out of the way just in time. Walter turns himself in. Laura's bones are buried in the cemetery while the dog watches. The falsely convicted man is set free from prison.
Best part of story, including ending:
This is a really good mystery which is very interesting as the truth is revealed when Walter regains the memories of what he did.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when Walter figures out the code embedded in the book which helps him find the grave.
Opinion about the main character:
It is a bit difficult to believe Jim Carrey as the main character Walter, because the actor is so well-known for his outrageous comedy roles in other films. His acting is very good, but it is hard to get rid of the feeling he might break out in a goofy-looking face at any moment.