Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I remember watching this with my college roommate in our dorm in 2004/2005 on the campus movie channel. The film was playing on a loop for a month or so, so we started watching it one afternoon. We had something planned for that evening, so we left the movie halfway through and attended our little shindig (which probably involved playing poker at one of the dorms across campus). The next night, we returned to the movie to try to finish it off, and I remember both of us being incredibly confused and - for myself, at least, - kind of dismissive of the film because we didn't understand it. [Note: If there ever is a movie that demands to be watched in one sitting, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fits the bill.]

And so it was. I heard people mention it sporadically over the years, always showering it with praise; occasionally someone would ask me if I'd seen it, to which I would reply, "yes" and they would heave a great sigh of relief and go on for a few minutes about how incredible it is. I would always kind of nod my head and smile, never contributing anything to the conversation since I could only remember vague snippets about it and even then I was wildly unsure of what I had watched. While my reply was technically true, I hadn't really seen the movie.

Fast forward to December 2009. The internet is inundated with an influx of "Best of the Decade" lists from just about every movie-related website known to man, even those only tangentially related to the film writing world. I even contributed my own "Favorites of the 2000's" list here and reproduced it at GeekTyrant. While perusing other people's lists, Eternal Sunshine made an appearance on nearly every one of them. By this point, I knew I had missed something. I realized my first viewing of this film was completely flawed, and so I promised myself I'd re-watch it to give it the fair shake that I hadn't given it the first time.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet

It's 1:02 on a Tuesday morning, and I'm sitting here watching my cursor blink in front of me. The film just ended, and instead of immediately exploring the special features (like I did for Duncan Jones' Moon last night or almost any other film I see on DVD/BD, even if only for a couple minutes), I just sat there and let the credits play for a little while. I went to the special features menu, but I couldn't allow myself to click on any content. This film earned more than that. It deserves a bit of reflection and some time to sink in before the illusion is ruined.

Add this to the list of films that evoked a deep emotional reaction immediately upon seeing it - for those keeping score at home, file it right next to Dear Zachary, Before Sunrise, Garden State, and Slumdog Millionaire for me. [Another note: if you haven't seen Dear Zachary yet and are capable of handling an emotional kick to the stomach, check it out. It's a really powerful movie.] Writer Charlie Kaufman has never really connected with me before (I liked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind but hated Adaptation), but his script combined with the unique vision of director Michel Gondry resonated in a way I wasn't expecting.

It's far too much of a mindscrew for me to attempt to recreate the story for you in this post, not to mention a complete disservice to a film which everyone over the age of 18 should see. I say that not because of the rating, but to give potential viewers some time to love and lose - the film becomes much more personal if you've been in a meaningful relationship. Looking back on what I've written so far, I realize that I haven't clearly said whether I even like this movie or not. Rest assured, I loved it. Every single aspect - score, writing, cinematography, production design, everything - was perfectly executed. Sometimes you finish watching a movie and think, "that could have been better if ____ happened, or if they did it ____ way." Not this one. For me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind hits a level of complexity that almost defies questioning; I realize making such a statement has worrisome implications, but I think it's true for this film. Everything about is just seems...right. That's as simply as I can put it.

Jim Carrey gives an outstanding dramatic performance (topping his already brilliant work in The Truman Show) and definitively proves himself an exceptional leading man. He is equally believable embodying sadness, desperation, contentment, and excitement, and in some ways his character Joel is the prototypical model of the definitive filmic male character of the 2000's: disconnected, threatened by technology, and desperate to hold onto a sense of good times past. Kate Winslet reminds me yet again why she is one of my favorite actresses with a fantastic performance as well. Similar to Natalie Portman's manic pixie dream girl from the same year's Garden State, Winslet's Clementine is a messed-up romantic caught up in her own problems, and is the perfect antithesis to Joel's shy personality. She earned a Best Actress nomination for her performance, and although she didn't win, it doesn't matter - she's rarely been better than she is here, and this will go down as some of her best work.

The supporting cast is also superb - Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and even Kirsten Dunst all gave tight performances that propelled the secondary narrative alongside the love story between the two main characters. The circular nature of the script (think Memento, but slightly different) can be confusing at times, but these characters lend an added weight to certain sections of the film and help the audience to navigate the "when are we?" feeling that sometimes arises.

An incredible film that truly is one of the best of the decade - I'm an idiot for not including it on my own list - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie that is sure to stand the test of time and become a classic from the 2000's. Where I chose to comprise my list of my favorite films to avoid arguing over the definition of "best," I think Eternal Sunshine is a movie I can point to when someone says "best" and contend that it deserves that categorization. If you haven't seen it (or even if it's been a while), I can't recommend this one highly enough. Until next time...


Toni said...

While I was in love with this movie the first time I saw it in the theater, it definitely became 100X less confusing on a second watch. I've since forgotten what it's like to engage this film as a "first timer," since I know it like the back of my hand now. Sniff, almost wish I could relive that experience.

Anyway, I can't believe you hated Adaptation!

waterbloggedAshley said...

I've "seen" this movie. One of those it-was-on-in-the-background-while-I-cleaned-the-apartment kind of things... didn't love it... suppose I should sit down and pay attention, huh?

Ben Pearson said...

Ashley, definitely yes.

Toni, I saw Adaptation much the same way I viewed Eternal Sunshine for the first time, so I'm planning on re-watching it in the future.

Carl Dungca said...

I have to agree with the "must be 18" gate in that--much like last year's Where the Wild Things Are--one must have lived through certain things in life to truly make a connection with the film.

I came out of the theater crying because of how personally this filmed spoke to me. I've seen this again a few times, having allowed time to pass. It remains a top-tier achievement to me, but I'll never be able to watch it ignorant of the life experiences that shaped my reaction.