Sunday, March 1, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

I’m pretty good at remembering who acted in a certain film, who was the director, the writer, even the person who composed the score. I can remember random lines of dialogue from many movies. But, I used to be better at it. Age blurs and blots out many of those memories, and I now have to research what I knew by heart. Does that mean I am no longer the same person, when important parts of my life are erased? Or, are we more than the sum of our memories? Is there something else, personality, chemistry, innate individuality, that is more constant and makes us who we are?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (the quote is from an Alexander Pope poem about two unconsummated lovers dwelling apart in monastic cells) deals with the importance of memories. This theme is taken up big time by Memento (I definitely have to talk about that movie in the future), and the films based on Philip K. Dick’s fiction: Total Recall; Blade Runner; Paycheck. In the Oscar-winning script by Charlie Kaufman, we are asked would we hold onto the memories of someone we loved if the relationship went bad, or would we, if we could, be better off if we could delete painful recollections of the lost love.

The opening credits dissolve after each is presented, alerting us to the theme to be presented. This film starts with the end of the story, although we don’t realize that at first. Joel (Jim Carrey, in my opinion, his best performance) wakes up looking a bit confused. We see him look out the window which has a bird cage suspended next to it. He leaves for his job, but at the train station he makes a last minute decision to skip work and go to Montauk. There, he meets the blue-haired Clementine (Kate Winslet, in the role that should have earned her an Oscar). These two are very different. She is literally and figuratively colorful, talkative, eccentric, spontaneous, and alternately warm and, as she says, “a vindictive bitch.” Joel is quiet, wants to avoid confrontation, and is shy, saying in his journal that he can’t even make eye contact with a woman. Joel says “I would not think that of you” when Clementine brings up her nasty qualities. She says how would he know, since he doesn’t know her. What is ironic here is that we first meet these two after they both have had a relationship that went sour, and had memories of each other erased. So, getting back to that bird cage, has Joel been uncaged by being free of the memory of Clementine, or is he now back in the prison of his former unloved world of solitude? Does he know Clementine’s true nature intuitively now, or is he just being polite when he says he would not think bad things of her after meeting for the “first” time?

The film then switches into the past to show us the back story. We see Joel crying because of how unhappy he and Clementine have become. He tells his married friends, another embattled couple, that when he visited the Barnes and Noble where Clem works, she acted like she didn’t recognize him and kissed a man there (whose face we do not see). Joel learns from his friends that Clem had this procedure which erased Joel from her mind. He goes to the facility where he meets the doctor who perfected the treatment, Harold (Tom Wilkinson), the tech assistant, Stan (Mark Ruffalo), and receptionist, Mary (Kirsten Dunst).  Joel wants the procedure, too. He must surrender all objects that refer to Clementine. He is sedated that evening and Stan and another assistant, Patrick (Elijah Wood, who is the man at the Barnes and Noble) arrive to do the treatment. Mary is involved with Stan, but worships Harold. Patrick says he has a new girlfriend who calls him because she is distraught. The girlfriend, of course, is Clem, since the deceptive Patrick used his knowledge of her through the clinic to pursue her. He then uses what he has learned from Joel, when he became a patient, to win over Clem. He even presents her with a piece of jewelry that Joel bought for her. In his subconscious state Joel realizes that Patrick is stealing his identity. Clem realizes intuitively that there is something not genuine about Patrick.

We see scenes of Joel’s relationship with Clementine in his memories as they are being erased. Once they are at a restaurant and Clem comments about a mirthless couple looking like “the dining dead.” She says she doesn't want them to wind up like them. We see that their differences have created a volatile situation. Joel’s passivity makes Clem crazy and she goes out at night without him. He assumes she is sleeping with other men. But, we also see loving moments together, and Joel decides subconsciously that he doesn't want to lose memories of her. 

Stan calls in Harold to help with the procedure. An ingenious chase scene occurs as Joel tries to hide Clementine by grafting her onto childhood memories. Around them objects and places disappear, and people’s facial features are lost. At the end of Harold’s work, Mary kisses Harold, and we discover that the two had an affair. But, Harold is married. Mary decided to have the procedure to wipe out the memory of the relationship.

The last “memory” of Clementine, before erasure, is her saying to Joel to meet her at Montauk. And, that’s where we came in at the beginning of the movie. It looks like the two will start again, but Mary has sent files to the patients to divulge what happened to them because she now believes that all should live with the truth about themselves. Clem and Joel hear tapes of themselves saying awful things about each other. But, Joel says so what? Relationships are struggles. Forewarned is now forearmed, and they now look to move forward together in love with their eyes open.

Jim Carrey was passed over for Oscar nominations in other films. Why do you think this actor can’t be taken seriously even though he has not limited himself to just comic roles?

Next week’s movie is The Right Stuff.

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