Top 50 - #2 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I have a conflicted relationship with romance, and romantic movies in particular. Thing is, I'm kind of a cynic about "Love" with a capital, yet at heart I really am hopelessly romantic. I just don't put any stock in the formulaic, by the book kind of romance movies usually serve up. I don't buy two beautiful people being meant for one another just 'cause, I don't buy big romantic gestures, and that's not even mentioning the sneaky sexism often present, with many movies operating under the assumption that the main goal in a woman's life is to find "the one".

My sister suggested, yesterday, that I draw out my studies because it's in college that you have the highest probability of meeting this mysterious "one", and I don't even think she was kidding. I laughed at her, of course, and it's true: I don't make any life decisions based on how they will affect my probability of finding a mate. I don't believe there is one person out there for me who's perfect. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't long to make a connection with someone, somehow, if only for a little while.

All this is a much too long and personal detour to bring me to a simple point: I believe that aside from being a perfectly crafted and written masterpiece, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most honestly romantic movies ever made. Not romantic like my #1. Not romantic in the sense that it makes you believe, for just a moment, in the magic Hollywood is so good at selling. But romantic in the sense that it doesn't let realism get in the way of hope.

Carrey's Joel and Winslet's Clementine aren't "meant to be", not even particularly well-matched in certain respects. They know, at the end, that they have many fights and difficulties ahead, that their relationship will be flawed. And it's knowing that, that they say "okay" to going through all of it again.

Charlie Kaufman is a brilliant screenwriter, I don't think there's anyone who'd deny it. I'd love to spend 15 minutes in his head, if not more. And I don't think he's heartless, either, his insecurities are much too close to the surface for that. His brain does however get in the way of his heart a lot of the time, leaving his films interesting, but a little cold, mental exercises that lead you to analyze them right away instead of getting lost in them. In this film, however, there's a perfect balance of the genius crazy idea and the feelings involved, and after the Science of Sleep I am inclined to give Gondry much of the credit for that. His imagery fills his film with wonder, but because he does most of his effects in camera the film never loses its footing in the real world. He managed to make this the best Kaufman movie to date, and that's no mean feat.

Next up: well, no hints this time, since any hint would give it away. Any guesses?


Joe Valdez said...

I'm about as big a fan of Eternal Sunshine as I am the ending to The Usual Suspects. Yes, it's clever, it's very clever, but I don't think there's much of a story there, just wacky moments.

I will say that I think Kate Winslet's character is fantastic. She's a nutter, but acknowledges she's nuts, which endeared her to me.

Personally, Charlie Kaufman will never come close to Cameron Crowe in writing romantic comedy, but I know not everyone feels that way.

Hedwig said...

Well, I'm with you on the Usual Suspects... but I think Eternal Sunshine far outshines its own gimmickry, by giving us real, flesh and blood, flawed characters. Maybe your disappointment comes from seeing it as a romantic comedy when it's really more of a drama with strange, quirky characters, though I hesitate to use the word quirky.

Clementine is not just "a nutter" as you say, she's a woman with profound insecurities and a problem with alcohol, who is also smart and aware and creative. In romantic comedies, the flaws of the characters are often meant to be cute, even, I would argue, in Crowe movies (with the stewardess played by Dunst in Elizabethtown an egrigious example). Here, the flaws are not "cute", they run deep: Clementine wants to be loved too much, and Joel doesn't want to open up. They're the things relationships go sour about. But they're also such an essential part of their personality that they're also what attracts them to one another.

cjKennedy said...

It sounds like you have a similar idea about movie love that I have. I'm cynical, yet hopeful and if it's not portrayed just so, it really annoys me.

I love a movie that doesn't glamorize love, that shows how hard it is and how much it hurts but shows how we want it anyway. One of the great things about Princess Bride is that it's a fairy tale that explodes the fairy tale myth about love.

To me Eternal Sunshine was about having to take the bad with the good. You can't just carve out your bad memories and only be happy all the time. As much as they hurt, those bad memories are part of what make you who you are. And it's the same thing with a relationship. It's not all sunshine. There are rainy days.

I'm rambling and not making sense again. :)

If you like unconventional romances, do yourself a favor and check out Lars and the Real Girl when it comes your way. I'll hopefully have a review of it in the next couple of days. (I'm slow, I know)