63. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

EternalSunshine1Being John Malkovich was interesting because it became weird as per the premise — going in, you may know it’s about a window into John Malkovich’s head. Even knowing this however, you might be surprised that the movie actually starts out weird. There’s a floor to an office building that’s in between two floors, and you’ve never seen Cameron Diaz like this.

Adaptation is pure trip. It doesn’t have the fantastical element of Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine, and is thus allowed to be the insane comedy/drama it is. Sunshine, being in the middle, might be a compromise between the two. It’s more like a commitment to direction — taking the fantastical element and centering the world around it to better facilitate human drama, where Adaptation is a commitment to the other direction, the zany, the metatextual. All three films are great, but Eternal Sunshine is both the most science-fictional, and the most human.

It’s wonderful to see a genuinely high-concept science-fiction idea in this day. This might just be the last great, original idea for a scifi film. District 9 has come since, but its high-concept is based on allegory. This is more like The Forever War, which may arguably be allegory, but in a roundabout way. With that story, the scifi concept facilitates the connection to the Vietnam War.

With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the relationship-erasure device and all its complexities is the facilitator to doomed love. Take that idea, and the typewriter (or copy of Final Draft) blazes with possibilities in exploration of romance.

Take that idea, and any writer could pull something compelling. But this is Charlie Kaufman, one of the most distinct voices in the industry. And the marriage to director is perfect — who but Michel Gondry?

It’s such an unusual approach to science-fiction, with Tom Wilkinson world-building by comparing the device to a night of heavy drinking. It’s laidback, and we don’t wonder about the sort of future this is. A lot like with Inception — when a friend wondered aloud when in the future Inception took place, I realized I’d never thought about it taking place any time but the present. Without even the label of ‘alternate history.’ Sometimes, you don’t need stuff like that, the scifi just is.

When it’s got a job to do, leave that scifi be. The job here is a trip through the mind that’s the closest we have to live-action Masaaki Yuasa, but different; just as unique. Although the brief moment where the doctors are faceless, like Jacob’s Ladder, is creepy, this journey is dreamlike and not nightmarish. It’s beautiful, like emotions made physical.

Jim Carrey is an incredible actor. This and The Truman Show are the dramatic feathers in his cap that perfectly cater to his comedic talent, and also maximize his beat-up, tragic side. Kate Winslet is one I don’t see enough, because she only rarely crosses over to genre stuff, and while her manic energy here can’t compete with Heavenly Creatures, it’s a delightful performance — a kind of weary worldliness despite insatiable curiosity.

She may not be everybody’s dream girl (and in terms of colored hair, Ramona Flowers has since stepped up), but she might be Jim Carrey’s, and it’s their quirky dynamic that sells what is at the crux of the movie — they’re not perfect, or are they?

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4 thoughts on “63. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  1. This is a brilliant riff on Total Recall… instead of implanting fake memories, we’ll delete real ones… and of course everything goes horribly wrong and by the end you have trouble telling what’s real and what isn’t. No wonder they hired Michel Gondry to make that Ubik movie that’ll probably never actually get made. (Not that it’s necessary, since Open Your Eyes already blatantly ripped it off and did a bang-up job at it.) The Truman Show is yet another unofficial Philip Dick movie, stealing its plot from Time Out of Joint but rejigging it for the mass media generation brilliantly. Why the recent official Dick adaptations like The Adjustment Bureau can’t be this good, I don’t know.

    1. Yeah, I mean Eternal Sunshine and The Truman Show are pretty high bars for our petty Adjustment Bureaus and Minority Reports of the world — I guess when good filmmakers decide to get phildickian with their stuff, cool things happen, and when studios want to adapt Philip K. Dick, they might hire a writer and they might not

      1. Minority Report is such a love/hate for me. It’s a visual masterpiece, and nearly up there with Blade Runner in terms of future world building, but the script makes me want to punch someone. It feels like the theatrical cut of Blade Runner, with a forced bullshit Hollywood ending, and the Sappy Sentimental Spielberg keeps clashing with the Dark Spielberg. It’s a fucking mess that looks spectacular and has a few great performances; Spielberg’s Prometheus, basically.

      2. Basically. At the very least, it’s better than AI. Although… I doubt if I’ve seen a movie outside of Dune I liked less than AI.

        Minority Report does have a good look, one that’s managed to stay unique — same can’t be said of Blade Runner. No matter how it played as a feature, I can’t wait for the TV show they’re making, with a female lead and everything. Not that I don’t like the big TC

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