A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 Joel is quiet, withdrawn and lives in his own mind and his journal.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 | , ,

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