Thursday, September 23, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Review number 2 - and it's really looking as if I'm NOT that busy, isn't it??

Anyway, I adored this movie, and I think it's a good one to follow Lost in Translation, because it really does follow on from where Lost... left off - the feel-good factor that is so formulaic in other movies works so perfectly in both! Another of my 2004 favourites, and the best relationship movie since Annie Hall!

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Charlie Kaufman (screenplay & story). Michel Gondry
& Pierre Bismuth (story)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst,
Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood.

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.
Alexander Pope

‘Adaptation’ gave us a bird’s eye (minds eye?) view of Charlie Kaufman’s story problems – finishing in a flurry of madness, ill-defined (though entertaining) narrative and nonsensical twists. The lesson of third-act panic personified by Cage’s character has already been displayed in all previous ventures; ‘Human Nature’, ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’, even ‘Being John Malcovich’ finishes on a crawl. Kaufman, it would appear, cannot finish strongly. Until now, that is. The movie to silence all doubters, ‘Eternal Sunshine…’ succeeds on levels that Kaufman’s other ventures have not – the connection you feel with each character not being the least of these achievements. The characterisation and actual acting bring life and soul to an already excellent screenplay, and all in all ‘Eternal Sunshine…’ gives a more comprehensive view of human relationships and love than any other movie. Ever. Broad statement this may be, but think about ‘Annie Hall’, ‘When Harry met Sally’ or ‘Say Anything’ (it slipped in)…they all profess to give us a beginning to end study, but only Eternal Sunshine gives us an end to a beginning followed by an end to a beginning. The reverse pattern with quirky (technically excellent) editing and montage clipping (take a bow Mssr. Gondry) give us an astounding insight into the main characters. We get to hate them as they hate each other at the end of the relationship, and then we are privy to their slow, backward dance to love and happiness through Joel’s (Jim Carrey) mind.

The awkwardness of youth, embarrassments of childhood and the introspection of adult life are explored in depth throughout the film, charting the fall and rise (and fall again) of Joel’s love life. Kate Winslet is at her un-Titanic best, appearing likeable and quirk-ridden as well as fallible and narcissistic. Showing a previously unseen side to herself, she replaces Merchant Ivory’s corset heaving and Titanic’s crocodile tears with real passion and power – giving Clementine faucets of personality that Kaufman himself probably hadn’t yet visualised. Coaxed by Gondry’s sensitive and quizzically probing direction, both actors embody the physical tics, the personable quirks and the likeable traits of each character, giving them flesh and soul beyond expectation. Reiterating a constant refrain, it must be said again that Jim Carrey is a fine actor! Constantly an issue up for debate, he now inhabits a man, Joel, who is actually described as ‘tight lipped’ and is depression-prone, hysterical, boring and human. Carrey gives him life and will, silencing all doubters with this display of fine thespian fervour. The movie seems to suit even his face – weather worn and even hangdog, reminiscent of Bill Murray, Carrey dispels with all ‘rubber-faced’ tags, and puts in a performance to be proud of.

Gondry’s intensive and pro-active editing, mixed with his camera motion and music choice, forms an equal match to Kaufman’s foil than even Spike Jonze managed (lending credence to a script that may otherwise have fallen into the trap of ‘Adaptation’ or, indeed, Gondry’s own ‘Human Nature’ – that of lack of audience connection or sympathy). Kaufman’s stellar rise has brought subsequent resting on script-laurels, and this fault is rectified by Gondry’s light touch and obvious affiliation with actors. His singular use of camera, honed from years of music video’s and short film, offers insight and caress to the individual problems and trials Kaufman so expertly describes.

Gondry was the original story man – coming up with the idea of a man discovering his recent love has erased him from her memory, only to erase her in retaliation. The actual mind erasure, along with the peripheral characters of Dunst, Ruffalo, Wilkinson and Wood (who play out a night of intense proportion in Joel’s bedroom around his sleeping body), are incidental to the true story at the base of this fight for memories – love found, love lost, and love sought. A common theme uncommonly told, this is Kaufman’s most commercial film to date. Those unfamiliar with Kaufman’s style may still find this a slog of sorts, and those familiar may smirk at the many traits of ‘Adaptation’, but both mindsets should appreciate the level of storytelling on display, and the home truths it draws the audience to. Allowing you to choose a character, and sympathise with them, it then dashes all your expectations without denting your appreciation. It makes you smile, it makes you laugh, and it makes you sad. In short, the movie connects.

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