Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

*Michel Gondry (director) *Charlie Kaufmann (writer) *108m *2004 *

This is a film built around the idea of "targeted memory erasure", the eradication of some specific things in our life we would like to completely forget about. Joel (Jim Carrey), the hero, is undergoing this procedure to forget all about his affair with Clementine (Kate Winslet), who has earlier got the same thing done to herself vis-a-vis Joel. Joel is a dazed inwardly drifter and Clementine an insecure self pushing and over expressive woman, and their interaction provides comic fare of the tired and sickly kind. They are mentally fractured to start with, in little need of further injury which they seek to self-inflict through the aforesaid procedure. The staff of Lacuna Corporation, which has discovered the erasure technique, in their inept and callous handling of the "subject", provide material for a couple of sniggers, as well as the only solid ground in a film which never finds it's own feet in the precarious crumbling quicksands of the subconscious. For the better part of the film, Joel is lying on the couch, capped with a helmet with electrodes leading to a computer. The film itself probes his mind ricocheting back and forth in time, and we see a salad of his. memories, dreams and fantasies. The main characters themselves are adult size babies, self centered pleasure seekers who are conspicuously unsuccessful in finding the satisfactions they seek. They seem to be like floating weeds adrift in a murky pond. The pettiness to which life is reduced is one of the big problems of our times.

The film would probably need a second view for a more informed analysis but one wonders whether there are any meanings to be discovered. It will cater to those who love complexity for it's own sake. It is befuddling without being profound. It appeals as little to the mind as to the heart.

The caverns of the mind are dark and frightening but the film certainly does not see any lamp to illuminate this darkness. It is yet another litany of despair, lacking even in melancholy relief.

The nicest thing in the movie is the title, taken from Alexander Pope. And it's the only thing with a bit of sunshine in it.
Roger Ebert's review
NY Times review by Elvis Mitchell
Review: Todd McCarthy


Literary Dreamer said...

I completely disagree (obviously, as I picked it as one of my movies of the decade), but I'll have to watch it again to furnish you with specific examples of how Kauffman's script is not just "for those who love complexity for its own sake."

As for it being an exercise in despair, however, I will simply ask you these two questions: if hope is dead in this film, why do Joel and Clementine meet again? And what happens when they do?

Seongyong Cho said...

I love this movie and I also completely disagree with you opinion. The story is surely complex, but Kauffman's script is intriguing and it is filled with lots of things to be enjoyed like any other of his movies. While watching Joel with Clementine in his memories, I was reminded of "Solaris". Did he really like her or did he just like his version of her? We get the answer in the end of this fascinating maze.

By the way, It could have been more depressing if they followed the first draft and probably that's you want. It turns out in the end that the story is another cycle of their relationship. Quite dark and depressing, isn't it?

S M Rana said...

I'll watch the concluding part again to understand your viewpoint--I was just tired and wanting it to end fast. Basically, I didn't find the characters to be interesting--narcisstic self indulgent adults who were never fortunate enough to be nurtured by adversities and challenges--and the director's identification with these decadent by-products of post industrialism. Even as a study of the human condition, I didn't think he was making any profound or artistic statements.

S M Rana said...

@Seongyong Cho

I never compared it to Solaris. Tarkovsky's movies go far beyond an individual's self-concern and moreover the tone is poetically tragic and never morbidly narcisstic. What actually bothers me is that the film maker identifies with and even glorifies characters who seem such pitiable human specimens. Even the cinematography is bleak. Synecdoche, which I am planning to see a third time, seemed less unappetising.

Anyway, I will have to see it again, to better understand your view--one does change opinions!