Valentine’s Day is the day of love and romance that lovers enjoy despite being created by greeting card companies in order to gain a bigger profit. Their have been countless films analyzing the rise of romance from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the ‘white people embracing’ sub genre of films of Nicholas Sparks novels. Couples set out to find the perfect ‘date film’ with these qualities in mind to spend time cuddling the night away. Cynics strive to find the perfect anti-Valentine’s Day film possibly relying on something of the opposite or focusing on the darker side of romance in the vein of 2004’s Closer. Very few films know how to blend these to varying styles together with the most recent being the overlooked indie of 2012, Ruby Sparks, which managed to blend the wonder created by (500) Days of Summer and all the elements of a good Twilight Zone episode. This week’s feature manages to combine the two as well with an even more insane and crazier blend of both the psychological, fantastical, and the heartbreaking realism of letting go. Considered by many to be a cult film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a daring take on moving on from the one you love and lead to Charlie Kaufman winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by music video master Michel Gondry, is an interesting and complex film that is an experience to witness. Eternal Sunshine is all about a man named Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey, who has fallen for a woman by the name of Clementine, played by Kate Winslet, that calls it quits after months or even years of being together. Clementine decides to erase everything about Joel at a hush-hush medical facility. Joel gets wind of what Clementine has decided to do and decides to go through with it as well and kick-starting one of the strangest yet wonderful films I have seen.
Allow myself to say with full disclosure that this time, I do not want to give to much away except, yes, they still wind up together in the end, but the journey is something one must experience on their own. Joel goes into the procedure by visiting Lacuna Incorparated’s head doctor, Howard Mierzwak (Tom Wilkenson). Sometime later from the comfort of his bed, Lacuna workers Stan Fink (Mark Ruffalo), Patrick (Elijah Wood), and Mary Svevo (Kirsten Dunst) are partying and having a blast as Joel wanders through his mind reliving memories of his time spent with Clementine, his manic pixie dream girl. The audience witnesses these moments with skewed perspectives and stylistic uses of special effects to garner Joel’s dream-like sequence across. Joel soon discovers that Patrick has left to go on a woo Clementine by using all the memories and moments Joel had ever done with her. Joel tries to fight this by grabbing ‘Dreamscape Clementine’ to run away from Stan, Mary, and eventually Dr. Mierzwak.
From here, they travel through the various memories in non-linear sequences hoping to escape the erasing of themselves from one another. Joel tries to hide by taking Clem to his own past and embarrassing moments, but Stan and Howard constantly battle back Joel’s subconscious at work. The wonders that are created are extraordinary introducing each memory with forced perspective, colorful designs, and an interesting use of a spotlight for darkly lit scenes. The viewer gets a sense that only this can exist in the mind and that the mind can perceive whatever is going on as what it remembers. Joel thinks back on Clementine walking away from him at one part and suddenly a car drops from the sky onto another car. This can be seen as Joel getting hit with such a force that it impacted him the same way an accident impacts someone. Joel wandering from the bookstore to his friend’s place simply by stepping through one door in one take shows he and Clem can walk through his mind freely as long as the stories are connected in some way.
The film, already complex and strange as it is, throws in a subplot that comes full circle with Mary’s crush on Dr. Mierzwiak under the nose of her boyfriend, Stan. Mierzwiak is alarmed when she kisses him with his wife and Stan just staring at them. Mary blames herself for her lack of understanding leading Mierzwiak’s wife to say”You can have him. You already have.” Mary is perplexed until Mierzwiak explains that she underwent the same procedure Clementine went through, hinting that the memories of the past relationship continue to linger in the subconsious and unconscious spectrum of the mind. Joel is not aware of this until the conclusion and the beginning of the feature.
I said I would not spoil much about the film, but the beginning of the film and conclusion are together in an odd way. The film begins with them meeting making the audience presume this is the beginning of their relationship. It is not till later the viewer discovers they met at a party in Montauk and Clementine’s hair is a different color. Once this is realized, the beginning is in fact the end and they have met once again to fall for one another as Mary discovered earlier. Joel does win back the love of his life, but both realize that they were nearly disgusted with each other by the end. Clementine breaks down in the hallway saying that if they try to do it over again, it will end the same, thus creating a cycle they cannot break. Joel, on the other hand, says screw it all because maybe it can be different now. A bittersweet yet happy ending to a dark look at the tale of romance.
Now, with all of that out of the way, the initial final verdict. Eternal Sunshine is a marvelous film about letting go, moving on, and staying together. The film is one of the best I have seen and stands as an experiment done right. The performances are wonderful with Carrey playing Joel to a tee and uses his comedic skills he is own for to deliver the various parts of his psyche. Kate Winslet fits into Clementine taking every manic pixie girl trait and utilizing it to create a realistic version of the cliche. The other actors come into their own with Tom Wilkinson and Kirsten Dunst shing brightly. The direction by Gondry is out of this world creating the world of memories that is comparable to the world Nolan created in Inception, yet unlike that film, Gondry’s version of the mind and subconscious has no limits or restraints. The script by Charlie Kaufman was and is worthy of the Oscar it earned by taking risks and doing something new, something that can always be praised in today’s world of rehashes and remakes. The score is brilliant with heartfelt and light melodic sounds in between the harsh dark tones and atmosphere created in the darker scenes. The film is something I recommend anyone to see to discover that movies about romance can be more than the hokey and mundane and be complex and filled with both the pros and cons of a relationship.
Next week, Film A Week celebrates the Oscar weekend focusing on a Best Picture nominee of the past. After looking thought the list of winners, one seemed appropriate for being the underdog of not only the year it won, but of the entire list of winner. Also, it is all about the underdog and kicked off a franchise that has been seen as one of the franchises done right. Film A Week steps into the ring with 1976’s Rocky.
Film A Week Week 7: Rocky (1976), An Oscars Special
Friday, February 22nd/Saturday, February 23rd
Sorry in advance for not being humorous this week. Next week, I will get back to it.
Stinger of the Week