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 | ,

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