Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

As in its beginning, work on the blog has basically come to a complete standstill. I've finished the Lost reviews, but if I do finish Voyager Season 3 then it will be far after it's due, probably in the Summer. As for now, I've got a few films to talk about, so without much ado...

POSTER SHOT!!! From thefilmchair
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004, Written by Charlie Kaufman, Dir. by Michel Gondry. Written 24/4/14.

There's a certain set of a assumptions that come with cult films - a very specific number of tropes that tend to get played out over and over again. This is especially true in romance - there is, after all, only a certain number of ways that two hetereosexual cisgender white people can interact with each other romantically. It's a genre which has very much been done to death - but then again, that's something that doesn't seem to really bother Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), who excels and taking genres and tearing them apart at the seams. While the film starts out as a conventional if odd romance, it soon develops deeper science-fiction roots which serve not only to offer some questions about human nature, but to bring the entire romance genre crashing into the real world.
     The film follows the quiet, unassuming Joel Barish (a straight-faced Jim Carrey) as he bunks off work and ends up meeting the excitable Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), with whom he finds an immediate connection. Flashback to a day prior, and we learn that both Joel and Clementine have chosen to erase their memories of a prior relationship which went sour due to their innate incompatibility. The film then follows Joel inside his mind, reliving the memories of his relationship with Clementine while a host of minor characters (doing the erasing) undergo their own, distracting plotlines. The film's structure works to force the secondary characters into as much dramatic limelight as the two leads, and as a result it's that much richer.
     By going backwards through Joel's memories of his relationship with Clementine, the film both mirrors and parodies the conventional US rom-com format - the cute meeting, the argumentative stages, and then slowly growing closer to the point of intimacy. Except that it points out at every step of the way the problems which come with their relationship, from their personality clashes to their irrational complaints about one another - culminating in the ending of the film (spoilers hur hur) in which both Joel and Clementine in the present receive the tapes they made before their memory wipe, and decide to proceed with their relationship even knowing that they may end up explosively breaking up. And then there was some weird recursion thing, but I ignored that.
Clementine and Joel. That mug looks painful.
From thefilmchair
     The film's secondary character sinclude a host of faces which for 2004 is quite impressive - faces like Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson. They engage in a storyline running through the other one, in which they are all involved in erasing Joel and Clementine's memories of each other. (By choice.) Each of them is equally fucked up: Wood's character uses Joel's memories of Clementine to attempt to seduce Clementine and steal her underwear; Dunst is pursuing a relationship with Ruffalo's character in order to get in with her boss Wilkinson; Wilkinson has already had an affair with Dunst but keeps wiping her memory of it; and Ruffalo knows about Wilkinson's plot but bangs Dunst anyway. It's the potatoes to Carrey and Winslet's meat, and manages to probe all of the unhealthy relationship archetypes which romance films tend to gloss over as good.
     The film's writing is what makes it a good film, and Kaufman is three for three, but the film's acting is what takes it to the next level, especially between Carrey and Winslet. This was in the short string of movies where Carrey was attempting to be serious, and unlike the similarly brilliant The Truman Show, Carrey's characterisation is about as far from the norm that he can get. There's no gurning, no catchphrases - the film hangs on the fact that this is a shy guy with deeply fucked up internal problems. The same for Winslet, even if quality for her is a little more expected. Those two make a surprisingly fun double-act, even when they're screaming random shit at each other. ("You're trying to figure out, did she fuck someone tonight?" "Clementine, I assume you fucked someone tonight. Isn't that how you get people to like you?") And it's that, as much as this film's novel approach to storytelling, that makes The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so fantastic.


NEXT WEEK: Charlie Kaufman write about Charlie Kaufman writing Adaptation in Adaptation.

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