The Truman Show (1998)

trumanshow1Yogi Berra famously once said, If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. And to go even further still, in As You Like It Shakespeare wrote, the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players. They have their exits and entrances.” So it goes with this film — The Truman Show. In fact, in some ways, it feels reminiscent of the likes Groundhog Day and even Jim Carrey’s later project Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s meta qualities and storytelling structure truly pushes the boundaries of what we know to be true. And in each case the results are gripping.

Directed by Peter Weir an Australian craftsman of other fine works like Witness and Dead Poets Society, the film takes this fascinating concept and truly runs with it even from its initial title credits. Truman played so delightfully by Jim Carrey, is the perfect schmuck next door. He has a white picket fence, a beautiful wife, a stable desk job. What more could you ask for? It’s not the least bit weird that we get an uneasy feeling we’re in Stepford, in this case, his town named Sea Haven.

As an audience, all of this seems suspect, but Truman goes through his life strangely ignorant. Still, he has this unquenchable desire to go to Fiji, but the memories of his father’s tragic death and his wife’s (Laura Linney) reluctance to skip out on their mortgage is holding him back.

trumanshow2However, as things progress there begin to be even more warning signs and indications to Truman that all is not right in his world. In truth, his life is a TV show, where everyone is privy to a television program including the audience, but that program ends up being his life. Truman Burbank is at the center of this orchestrated universe and he has been for 30 years. But over time he gets wise to the game and he’s looking to push the limit of the rules as far as they will go so he can get to the bottom of it all. But as he begins to push the boundaries of this world, goofs and mess-ups become more obvious. Truman begins to notice loops and inconsistencies in the story being told around him. Some people, namely the former extra Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), want Truman released from this prison–this life under a microscope.

However, when we meet the show’s creator, director, and mastermind Christoph (Ed Harris) he sees what he has given Truman as a gift ( I have given Truman the chance to live a normal life. Sea Haven is the way things should be). But when Truman goes off the grid, there’s a media frenzy and he forces the hand of his creator. Thus, this “creator” and “created” paradigm is developed and they have their first interaction, which consequently will also be their last.

trumanshow3If there is a Creator of the Universe, our universe, The Truman Show puts it in a clearer light. Christoph seems like a somewhat selfish individual who allows his creation to walk off set rather reluctantly, but he finally does let go. Thus, his actions seem to make it clear that the most loving Creator possible would let his creation do what they pleased. He would be in control, but he would willingly give his created ones free will to do what they want. That makes sense to me. I would want to be a living, breathing, mistake-doing individual rather than a mechanized robot. That’s the beauty of this life.

Going back to the eminent Yogi Berra. Our lives are not perfect, they are full of hurt and pain and mistakes. A lot of which is brought on by ourselves or other people. But would we have life any other way? I think not. Because if life were perfect in every step, perfectly controlled and accounted for, what would that be? Hardly life at all. The Truman Show is a fascinating film, but let’s not have the conversation stop there. It is simply a film, but allow it to point you to the deeper, harder questions. Questions of free will and a creator, an imperfect world versus a utopia and so on. What if someday the joke’s on us and we find out that someone has been watching our every movement? That’ll be the day.

4.5/5 Stars

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

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