A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 104 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Thoughtless Mind – June 12th, 2010

I had never seen this. Once again, it’s fallen victim to overhype for me. But it’s got Elijah Wood, and since we weren’t about to get sucked into the LotR movies yet (we’re saving them for a time when we have three hours three days in a row) and he was the best connection for the rest of our string, in it went.

Joel (Jim Carrey) wakes up in a funk. His car’s been dinged up. It’s a cold snowy day. He ditches work and catches a train to Montauk for no reason he can understand and ends up in a diner, fixated on a young woman (Kate Winslet) with blue hair who’s spiking her coffee. Her name is Clementine and she talks to him on the train back into the city. She’s a little weird and she intimidates him and he’s painfully awkward and the music is quirky so we know we’re supposed to like them. I just feel the awkwardness and embarrassment oozing out of the screen and that’s a severe issue for me. So they go back to her place and have drinks and it’s still painfully awkward and she’s so earnest and eager and he’s so reserved and awkward and okay, fine, awkward can be par for the course. But it makes me squirm.

And then we head to a different point in time where we learn that Clementine has used a company called Lacuna Inc. and had Joel erased from her memory because she wasn’t happy. And so Joel does it too, going to the same company to have the same thing done. And so while he has his memories erased overnight we get a surreal trip through his mind, seeing things he recalls about Clementine and his life with her, in semi-reverse order, peppered with bits and pieces from other memories. He walks through scenes he recognizes but doesn’t understand. The guys running the procedure, a couple of slackery types, are chatting, and the chatting intrudes on Joel’s memories and sleeping mind. He remembers the things he loved about her and the things he hated. The things they agreed on and the things they argued over. And he sees what’s happening, everything disappearing bit by bit. And he starts to suspect something strange is going on in the waking world.

He’s right.

One of the technicians, Patrick (Elijah Wood), is more than mildly skeevy and during Clementine’s erasure he stole her underwear and developed a total creepy thing for her. He takes all the mementos Joel is supposed to give over to Lacuna. And he seduces Clementine using Joel’s things and words and self now that she’s forgotten she knew someone who already had those things and said those words and was that person. So Joel, knowing this, works inside his mind to remember Clementine, hiding memory of her somewhere the erasing dudes won’t find. And there are some super creepy scenes in his mother’s kitchen as a small child with Clementine there and some humiliating scenes that again make me cringe. Like I didn’t cringe enough at this movie. And while all this is happening, we learn some things about the doctor who’s in charge of Lacuna and his receptionist and it’s all a big mess in the real world while things only get more disjointed in the dream/memory world. Until the end, which is the beginning, when they met. And in his dreams Clementine tells Joel to make a new memory. Change the one he has and make a goodbye they never had.

So something slipped through. And Joel wakes up in a funk. His car’s dinged up. It’s a cold snowy day. He ditches work and catches a train to Montauk for no reason he can understand. It’s not awkward this time. It skips awkward and goes straight to painful as they find out what happened and they don’t remember, but they listen and they hurt and they have to go on from there.

It’s a beautiful movie in many ways. The cinematography is stark at times – the movie takes place in February, on the night before Valentine’s Day, and is suitably cold and gray in the way only February can be. And then it’s dim and shadowed and claustrophobic as Joel’s memories disappear into shadows and all he can focus on is what’s in front of him. It’s confusing and panic-inducing and conveys a real sense of Joel’s rising realization that he’s losing things he doesn’t want to lose, and his desperation not to let that happen. The acting is as painful as the story, with every hangdog look of Carrey’s and every quirky jab of Winslet’s spot on enough to make me uncomfortable not because they’re doing it poorly but too well. The mess in the world outside Joel’s mind is aching, with the best performance (in my opinion) coming from Harold’s wife, who’s only on screen for a few moments but provides one of the most killer lines of the movie. A stab that makes all the eerie creepy skeevy things clear.

There’s a lot of creepy stuff in this movie. There’s a lot that makes me cringey and makes my skin prickle uncomfortably. Maybe it’s the whole conceit of people mucking with your memories. Maybe it’s Patrick and Howard (the doctor) and how easily the whole system is abused. Maybe it’s that I value memory, even if memory is a vague changing thing that can morph and fade without our say so anyhow. Maybe it’s knowing that while the person that forgets might be happy, the people that remember don’t have that luxury (and the way the movie presents it, the people who forget aren’t happy anyhow). Maybe it’s how easy it is for someone to decide they want to forget and they just do so. There are things in my life I’d like to forget. Humiliations and mistakes and things I wish had never happened. But I wouldn’t want to make the mistake of erasing something I thought had no value and ending up losing something important. It’s creepy and while the emotional impact of Joel and Clementine and the mistakes they made and the things they do and Joel’s memories and fight to hold on is incredible, I’m left feeling uneasy. It’s not the romance part of it. The romance worked. It’s the device that’s used to show it. So it’s a romance, but a broken one. Maybe that’s the point.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

June 12. 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I realize that this is more appropriate as a Valentine’s Day movie. Indeed it is probably one of my favorite romances of all time, with a lot of harsh truth to the love story within. But I’ve been waiting for any opportunity to share to share this movie with my wife, and since it worked well as part of our Kevin Bacon project I’m delighted to have a chance to watch it again. Also: in the spirit of patting myself on the back for being such a clever boy, I’d like to point out that I was pretty quick to pick up on what the enigmatic beginning of this movie meant when I first watched it. See it’s one of those movies that plays out out of sequence and has somewhat of a mystery to it. It’s the tale of Joel and Clementine – two unlikely people who fall in love with each other in spite of (or perhaps because of) their differences. Clementine is an impulsive, crazy, loud girl. Joel is quiet, withdrawn and lives in his own mind and his journal. But the way the movie tells the romance is utterly unique and brilliant.

Let me reiterate that point. This movie is brilliant. Utterly, unbelievably, perfectly brilliant.

The central conceit of the movie is that there is this company that can erase unwanted memories. It’s a grimy little fly-by-night kind of operation that does its advertising by mass mailings. But it seems so perfectly plausible. They map your brain using objects that have memories associated with them, then erase those memories. Clementine erases her memories of Joel after a fight and when he finds out he is shocked and decimated. Ultimately, in his heartbroken desperation, he chooses to have his memories of her erased as well. Then, after the process has already begun, he changes his mind, and clings desperately to these memories. But nothing he can do keeps the memories from being destroyed. From there on out the movie is told from inside his sleeping mind as his memories are being erased. We discover their relationship through all these personal and intimate moments – as they are stripped away from him.

Not only is this a fantastic way to say something meaningful about love and relationships, which it is, but it also allows director Michael Gondry, in his first feature film, to create and explore this fantastic dream world. The way that Joel’s memories are depicted as all intertwined and convergent is mesmerising. Gondry uses a hundred and one clever tricks. Some cute digital trickery, but mostly practical in-camera theatrical stuff. Sets blend into each other. The lighting is strange and obscured as Joel’s mind is gradually wiped clean. Peoples faces are obscured by lighting or angles or makeup. (Particularly nifty is the way that Joel sees one key character that he’s only seen twice and whos face he can’t quite remember.) But really all the cleverness and the trickery, while cool, isn’t what the movie is about.

Besides the very clever direction in the film the other amazing thing about it is the wonderful acting performances delivered by the two leads. Jim Carrey is so restrained and soulful in his portrayal of Joel that it’s like he’s a completely different actor. His usual comedic persona is so crazy and loud that to see him deliver this quiet, intense, withdrawn and basically scared person to the screen is all the more touching. And Kate Winslet as Clemantine is captivating as well. She takes this character who is all mad drunkenness and crazy spur-of-the-moment impulses and imbues her with a kind of quiet broken desperation. You know from the very beginning of the film that these two people desperately need each other, and spend the rest of the movie finding out just how much.

I think that’s one of the things I find so intriguing about this movie. It has a sci-fi premise, but it’s not a sci-fi film. It’s a drama, and a romance, and maybe a little bit of a thriller. It’s one of those brutally honest movies. It has a lot to say about how people really are. How intimacy works. About why even people who are deeply in love fight, and maybe don’t really know each other as well as they might think that they do. Or about the lies we tell ourselves to explain our own actions. About relationships and memories and how we see each other. How sometimes things don’t work out. And then again, how sometimes they do.

Like I said. The perfect Valentine’s Day movie. Even in the middle of June.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment