Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

eternalsunshine1In truth, I always thought this film had a well-suited title for its material. It was rather unusual and unique. There was not much more to think about otherwise. But when you actually think about it, whether or not you consider Alexander Pope’s poem from which it originates from, there is great truth that can be gleaned from this phrase “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.” In fact, it’s truth that points to the heart and soul of Charlie Kaufman’s story.

As humans who love and love to love, there is also the equally likely chance that we might lose that love, or have it come crashing back down upon us. Thus, if we lived with a mind never cluttered with such a thing as love and all the complexities, pain, and emotions that go with it, then could we not be forever happy? There would be nothing to darken our mood, as ignorance truly is bliss. Except in that statement, there is something inherently wrong, because to be human means to be thinking and feeling creatures of reason. Take that away from us and we are little more than animals. But with our minds, we can do so much that is worthwhile. Perhaps we get hurt in the process, and yet that brings to mind another long overused epithet. It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. It’s a paraphrasing of Tennyson I think.

This is a great place to enter into this film — this absurdly idiosyncratic vision of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry. Initially, the story of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a great mess — a great web of confusion. The tone is a bit melancholy only to be injected with a heavy dose of whimsy. A man quite suddenly boards a train and meets a free-spirited girl. It’s a meet-cute, and yet there’s a strange sensation that this is not the first time they have met.

Over time everything begins to fall into place just like memories hidden away in the human mind. In fact, that’s exactly like this film. Joel (Jim Carrey) is a subdued, often lonely man, who decides to get rid of his memories, especially when he learns that his former girlfriend Clementine has done the same. He just wants to be able to get over her. But as part of the process, all his past memories come flooding back from the most recent to the oldest. Each and everyone seems to include Clem in one way or another. It’s quite the strange sensation, although Joel does begin to get used to it. That doesn’t mean he likes it.

eternalsunshine2He swims in and out of consciousness between the past and then the present that is going on outside his head. The voices inside his head, or more aptly, the voices right outside his head come from two engineers (Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo) from a company in charge of erasing his memories. They create a map of them so they can remove the memories later.

Paranoia sets in as Joel’s past disappears, and he attempts to stop the inevitable erasing of all his recollections. They’re lucid dreams or more like lucid nightmares accompanied by paralysis. However, Joel goes off grid into the deep cavernous expanses of his brain. Entering places where his deepest desires and deep-seated feelings hide. It might be buried in his childhood, humiliating ordeals he was put through, or his most intimate memories of the girl Clementine.

This film is most certainly inventive, but it becomes endangered of relying too heavily on a concept or a gimmick in a way that gets in the way of the love story. Although that does happen at times, in general, Eternal Sunshine functions in great capacity. While being utterly original, it still manages to be anchored by the story of Joel and Clementine. That is due to the wonderfully restrained performance of Carrey paired with Winslet’s dyed-hair and unfettered turn as Clem.

eternalsunshine3Finally, the narrative folds over on itself again as Joel’s mind returns to the present — a present without any recollection of Clementine. They meet again and there’s a strange sensation in the air. It’s a true deja vu moment that has them befuddled and confused. Will they go through with their relationship even when they find out about their rocky history?

Perhaps the most troubling thing about Eternal Sunshine is that it feels liberating, but it’s liberation without the prospects of romance going anywhere. How do we know that Joel and Clem won’t fall into the same ruts they did before? However, maybe that’s exactly the point. Love often means taking risks and stepping out when it’s hard. The great unknown can be daunting, but without it, there could be no joy or hope in life, only mindless interactions with arbitrary meaning. Love is worth the risk for Joel and Clementine. It’s the same for most people. Therein lies the beauty behind it.

4/5 Stars

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

fea8c-fellowship1Without the inventiveness and lore that J.R.R. Tolkien created in his books, there would never be something as visceral and grand in scope as The Lord of the Rings. However, it is a vibrant mythology that Peter Jackson breathed life into, and it becomes evident in the opening minutes of the Fellowship.

There is so much ground to cover as far as history and context go and Jackson sets it up beautifully with an epic prologue narrated by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) which became synonymous with this trilogy.

“But something happened then that the Ring did not intend. It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable: a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire. For the time will soon come when hobbits will shape the fortune of all.”

Thus, begins the Fellowship of the Ring. We find ourselves in the awesomely beautiful Shire (courtesy of New Zealand) backed by an exuberant score by Howard Shore. This is the home of a now elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) and his relation Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). The backdrop is Bilbo’s Eleventy-First Birthday and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is making an appearance for his old friends birthday.

There is a lot of merriment to be had complete with Gandalf’s world famous fireworks, however, Bilbo is also preparing to say adieu, and he must finally give up the Ring. It is at this time that Gandalf is reminded of its power as it gets handed off to the unknowing Frodo. It is now this little hobbit’s task to flee everything he has ever known because 9 Black Riders sent by the evil Sauron are heading to retrieve the Ring.

By his side is the loyal gardener Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) and his two jesting friends Merry and Pippin. As for Gandalf, he must deal with some business with the head of his order Saruman (Christopher Lee).

With the Riders in hot pursuit, the hobbits stop at the Prancing Pony. By this time Gandalf has yet to return but they cross paths with a ranger named Strider (Viggo Mortensen). He agrees to lead them to the Elvin city Rivendell but before they can get their Frodo is ambushed by the Ring-Wraiths and receives a fatal wound. He survives and is reunited with Bilbo as well as Gandalf who was forced to flee Saruman who has switched his allegiance.

A decision is made to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom from whence it came and Frodo is joined by his friends, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the dwarf (John Rys-Davies) and Boromir (Sean Bean) the man.

They must take a treacherous path leading to the Mines of Moria which are in complete ruins. The area has been completely overrun by orcs and Gandalf must stave off an ancient demon called a Balrog so the others can escape.

They wind up in Lothlorien the home of more Elves including Galadriel who informs Frodo of what the future hold for him. Boromir is the next person to be tempted by the Ring and he tries to get it away from Frodo who starts to flee once more.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas take on a legion orcs and Boromir attempts to redeem himself but is struck down. Merry and Pippin get kidnapped leading the enemy away from Frodo. Ever faithful Sam follows Frodo because of the promise he made. And the three other members of the Fellowship resolve to go after the press-ganged hobbits after they pay their respects to Boromir.

It’s a cliffhanger ending, but it is packed with enough epic drama and heart to make it a worthwhile ride. Just know that this is just the beginning of a long, hard journey.

Lord of the Rings is visually magnificent and it’s absolutely mind boggling that most of the scenery and extras in the film (ie. orcs) were actually real. Thus, it seems like The Lord of the Rings is one of the last great epics in a long line of epic films. It is sad to think that this kind of “real” epic is a dying breed with the use of CGI. Human actors and real life scenery is slowly, or actually quite rapidly, getting replaced by computers.

My criticism is that computers make the world and even characters look too perfect. You can tell that it is not real and it loses some of its allure in my mind. Furthermore, if characters are being created from scratch you lose the human interaction and thus a great deal of movie magic. My hope is that these type of epics will find a resurgence because they are usually well worth it.

Another observation has to do with Howard Shore’s magnificent score. If you removed it from this film we would have a completely different movie-going experience. It would be as if a piece of the puzzle is missing, because he seemed to so perfectly personify each locale and he accented each scene so wonderfully with music. Whether it was epic choral arrangements during dark moments or the flute for the gaiety of a sunny day in the Shire.

This certainly not my first romp in Middle Earth, but I was reminded why this world was so engaging. I am excited to revisit the other installments, because the story only gets better with time, even if we already know the ending. Thank you, Peter Jackson, and thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien.

5/5 Stars

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

86a5e-eternal_sunshine_of_the_spotless_mind_ver3Starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet this fantasy romance opens with a man named Joel waking up in a funk. He boards a train and meets the free-spirited Clementine for what seems to be the first time.

The film then starts at the beginning where Joel and Clementine were actually lovers. They had a fight however, and Clementine paid for all of her memories of Joel to be erased. When Joel finds this out he too wants to have the procedure done. It takes place in his sleep and so he begins to see their romance in reverse order.

When he revisits some of the good times, he tries desperately to save some of the memories, but in the end they are erased. The film starts up again where it began with the pair meeting. They both discover tape recordings about their relationship and it causes them to become scared and confused. Joel asks her if they can begin again and Clementine is apprehensive that the same problems will creep up again.

However, they do decide to go through with it again because love is worth the risk. The non-linear, inventive story line by Charlie Kaufman is interesting and the rest of the  cast was pretty good including Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst.  Furthermore, it was interesting to see Jim Carey in a dramatic role. This is a solid romantic comedy with some interesting ideas about memories, but I feel it deserves another watch due to the confusing story arc.

4.5/5 Stars