Thursday, March 11, 2010

Postscript: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Seeing the formidable reputation and the overwhelming positive critical reaction (not to mention friends' opinion), I was induced to re-view the movie, particularly since I had admittedly failed to make much less than 100% sense of it the first time. At least I had definitely got the feeling that it was not quite my cup of tea.

It's reputation is either as a light comic romance or as a look at the workings of the mind using the pseudo-scientific ploy of induced selective amnesia. The sadness of losing one's memories is poignantly portrayed because loss of memories is a kind of death, whether one's own or other people's. The slow fading of good and bad incidents as synapses snap and neurons implode as good Dr. Murray presses the erase buttons, is a series of sad miniature deaths and it is mournfully captured. (Sorrow is perhaps Kaufmann's favourite emotion, going by the yet to come Synecdoche.) Ebert has aptly compared memory erasure to the tragedy that is Alzheimer's disease. (It is an interesting question whether complete erasure of the past is possible even in Alzheimer's or even in death. Theologies emphatically maintain otherwise.) The ending is indeed a ray, if not eternity, of sunshine. The couple have learnt from their suffering, accepting each other for what they are. They transcend superficialities of compatibility, travelling beyond crutches of  plastic surgery, cerbral or otherwise. They have discovered  human bonding at a deeper stratum. Perhaps love is after all an inner resolve to love. In that sense I would prefer, given a choice, to interpret the film, as a satire on over dependance on technology, rather than as a neurological masterpiece. The film concludes by people back on the saddle, where they need to be, and rightfully belong. And this conclusion is delicately wrought. (Maybe reading too much between the lines.)

It looks as though I have talked myself into liking the film, but there isn't a third time, because it's not my brand of caffeine (or is it now), though it places Synecdoche, a deeper film, which I have seen twice and written about once, squarely on the focus of my periscope sights.

And come to think of it, it's quite touching to see kids, even grown-up ones, moving away from the sad emptiness of their lives. Literary Dreamer Greg Salvatore is right about the triumphant note on which it concludes.

A vignette of worldly wisdom from Ebert: "The secret of communicating with another person, I suspect, may be in communicating with who he thinks he is. Do that, and you can kid a great man and treat an insignificant one with deep respect. They'll credit you with insight."
James Christopher's review


S M Rana said...

@ Seongyong Cho
Will it be a cycle? Resolution to make it work second time is a victory since love has emerged from the depth of life, emerged out of suffering. There will of course be problems again, but human beings have capacity to learn and improve. I feel their relationship will now be an enduring one. Thanks for your comment, which encouraged me for a second view.

Literary Dreamer said...

Thanks for the shout-out. :-)

Of course, if you don't like the characters, then the movie can be difficult to watch, but I don't think the main point of the movie is a satire on technology. Instead, technology is used as a MacGuffin to reveal something about the nature of relationships and how our memories shape our feelings about others. And yet, even with Joel and Clementine's memories erased, they still meet again, don't they? And they start to fall in love again, don't they? I think your comment on this thread catches the gist of what Kauffman is trying to say about us and our relationships.

Of course, now you've gotten me to want to see this movie again, as I feel I have forgotten too much of the story to explain, in greater detail, what I think it means, though I still remember, very clearly, how it made me feel. :-)

Seongyong Cho said...

@ S M Rana

It can be like that, considering they forget how terrible it was for them losing small but precious part of themselves. But there is always hope even if history repeats itself, isn't it?

I find subplot involving Lacuna staff is crucial as mirror image of main plot. Their story is also another miserably disjointed love story associated with erased memory, and it's more dour situation in my opinion(I heard it was also supposed to be another cycle). Their relationship eventually ends in bitter taste, but I think there can be better tomorrow for them, too.

Don't worry, I also have doubts about some movies regarded by others as great movies. It's matter of subjective view. For example, in case of "The Graduate" and "Midnight Cowboy", these are good movies but I don't find them particularly great due to lack of strong emotional feeling.

vivek said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the way the film was presented. And to think they didn't use many digital special effects!

S M Rana said...

Interviewed in 1966 by François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock illustrated the term "MacGuffin" with this story:

"It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?", and the other answers "Oh that's a McGuffin". The first one asks "What's a McGuffin?". "Well", the other man says, "It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands". The first man says "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands", and the other one answers "Well, then that's no McGuffin!". So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all."

Nick Duval said...

I've seen this film roughly 5 times, and I hadn't really gotten it until the last or penultimate time. At that point I saw finally how polished it really was. Synecdoche may be deeper, but I still really do love this film and I think it's great how Kaufman rarely makes films that click on the first time. I should re-watch "Being John Malkovich," which I didn't like quite as much as the rest of them, for this reason; "Adaptation" was the rare one that hit the mark on first viewing and apparently diminishes heavily later on (I've only seen it once, loving it).

Jack L said...

I wasn't impressed much by this film when i first watched it but I have been strongly considering re-watching it, especially after liking Being John Malkovich and loving Adaptation.

I think I'll enjoy it more the second time around...

And great review by the way, very well written!

S. M. Rana said...

Thanks and look forward to read your views about this film!!