Saturday, March 20, 2004

Just saw Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and have to rave about it. Charlie Kaufman's previous best work has been directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), but this film is directed by Michel Gondry, the ace French director famous (as Jonze also is) for his amazing music videos (and who also directed the disappointingly-reviewed Kaufman script Human Nature). Unlike BJM and Adaptation, which I found to be more intellectually interesting than moving, Sunshine is devastatingly emotional. The basic idea: a guy finds out his girlfriend, fed up with him, has had him erased from her memory, and, heartbroken, he decides to reciprocate. There's some chronological scrambling in the way the material is organized (here's a tip: concentrate on Valentine's Day), and there's a long sequence inside Jim Carrey's head, crosscut with events happening in the real world that night, but the excellent direction and editing keeps things crystal clear.

Though the film has been called SF for its use of memory-wiping, I thought the scenario was horrifying, which is probably why I reacted so strongly. But the movie is also very funny. How you react will probably depend on what you make of the lovers' relationship--average? or awful? Elvis Mitchell wrote that Carrey's character is underdeveloped, but the idea is to appeal to the audience's emotions by getting us to project ourselves into the scenario (standard movie procedure). The script cleverly details their relationship with moments and details that are memorably unique yet also universal. Carrey and Winslet play a couple of neurotic fuck-ups (typical Kaufman characters--have fun comparing these new characters to those in the other films), and their problems make them vulnerable and sympathetic.

Selective memory-wiping may be impossible, but the ethical issues of the technology reminded me a lot of real technologies from plastic-surgery to, as Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out, shock therapy. The way the memory-wiping is done is amusingly ludicrous from a strictly realistic point of view, but metaphorically it's dazzling, accomplished with techniques that range from d.i.y. (one shot in a bookstore has all the books with spines facing in so that they all look blank) to sophisticated digital effects, but the visual ideas are always simple and striking. The most impressive aspect of the film, though, is the ideas. They've actually found a new spin on the boy-meets girl scenario. How often does that happen? If you take the implications seriously, I think you'll be as shaken up as I was.

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