April 6, 2011

Movies Revisited: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I'm about to drop some poetry. Get ready. These are lines taken from the 300-year old poem Eloisa and Abelard.

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;"
Let it breathe, like a fine wine . . . OK . . . right.

"Vestal's lot" . . . heh? I may read it and feign understanding, but let's face it: teachers bring valuable attention to material like this.

So stay in school, kids!

This poem is a favorite of Charlie Kaufman's, who references it in not one, but two of his films: Being John Malkovich, and the film we're revisiting this week: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (MRQE Metric: 85), written and overseen by Mr. Kaufman, directed by Michel Gondry.

Sunshine begins at a train station on a cloudy day, ironically. Joel, (Jim Carrey) a quiet, uncomfortable fellow, inexplicably jumps on a train bound for Montauk. In his passenger car he meets Clementine, (Kate Winslet) a talkative, eccentric girl who is quick to engage Joel in conversation. Their awkward interaction produces an immediate, if not unexpected, chemistry. This is because they've been together before.

It is present day New York, and a technology exists (strangely bound to the humble confines of a medical clinic) that allows people to erase the memories of embittered lovers from their brains. And that's precisely what Clementine has done with Joel. After discovering Clem's decision via telegram, Joel chooses to have the same procedure.

But midway through his Clementine cleaning, Joel has second thoughts. From his sleep state, he desperately tries to hold on to the romantic memories that are being erased. All the while, a bogus medical staff monitors Joel, while drinking beer and dancing over his sleeping head. The doctor/inventor of the procedure has to interfere. And this memory-erasing, relationship quick-fix proves to be less effective than promised.

Eternal Sunshine is a personal favorite of mine. This romantic fantasy is only seven years old, released in 2004 to moderate success. But I wanted to revisit it. As a junior in high school, it held some mysterious, deeper resonance for me . . . and I haven't seen it in a while. It is far from a standard love story. Instead of watching the build or decline of a relationship, you're watching bits and pieces, a collapsing of memories. It's bizarre, but surprisingly human.

It is a strange, somber film that feels both heavy and weightless at times. I would credit that to Kaufman's thoroughly unique narrative combined with Michel Gondry's effortless bending of reality.

Today, the film remains mesmerizing. Gondry creates very clever and stunning representations of Joel's subconscious state. In a mesh of sequences, he uses subtle and deft camera work to convey the loss of memory: books that lose their text, cars that disassemble and spotlights that fade to black. There's a tricky, yet organic feel to Gondry's work, making the experience both fun and enchanting. One can almost imagine a complex stage play, with fake props, movable walls and furniture changing left and right.

I hope this is not the last Gondry/Kaufman collaboration. I don't know what another seven years will bring. But in 2011, Eternal Sunshine holds up quite well, and remains just as wonderful. Kaufman should use as much classic poetry as he so desires.

Download Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on iTunes!
Buy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Amazon!

1 comment:

  1. So you wrote this forever ago, but if I'm lucky, you'll read this comment.
    When you were talking about the resonance the film held for you, it was like you were reading words I had written. I completely understand. I love the film with all my heart, and I hold exactly the same opinions as you. Can we chat about other films, etc? My email address is satellite2707@gmail.com.


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