I’m in the process of re-watching the highly acclaimed films from the 2000s, especially those that I considered some of the better films of the decade. This was one of those films, and I wondered if if it would hold up in a second viewing. (It did). In this thread, I want to do discuss the film, hopefully justifying this position as well as raising other questions about the film. Let me say a few things off the top of my head about my reaction to the film:
First, I must say that Kate Winslet is a big reason the film worked for me. The film is basically a love story and love stories with female leads that make me wish they would fall in love with me (or make me fall in love with them) really make these films more effective. I don’t really have any rational defense for Winslet. She’s beautiful, but there are many other female actors that are just as beautiful, if not more so. I don’t know what it is about Winslet, but she has this effect on me.
Second, this is a highly original film, imo. I certainly can’t think of another film that has the characters “running around” in one the character’s memories, as these memories are being erased. More importantly, I liked the way the film examines the relationship in these memories. In a way, it reminded me of It’s a Wonderful Life, where the character learns about how important the person is only when she (her memory) is going to be taken away from him.
Third, one of my criticisms of Charlie Kaufman is that his films are clever for the sake of being clever; that they don’t really come together to make a complete film. In this film, Kaufman (and Gondry, perhaps) uses these clever ideas in an effective way and all the parts come together in a unified whole.
Fourth, I think the film somehow captures the time period, a film we look back on a say it represents the 2000s in some way. I only have a vague feeling about this, and I’d be interested in hearing someone flesh this out.
Finally, I really like the ending of the film. In the end, Clem goes over to Joel’s house while he listens to the tape recording of his thoughts about Clem (which he had to make in order to erase his memories of her). Joel says nasty things about Clem on the tape and Clem leaves. In the hallway, Joel asks Clem to stay, and she says it’s pointless because Joel will eventually find something he doesn’t like about Clem, while she’ll eventually feel bored and trapped and want to get out the relationship. Joel shrugs, smiles and says, “OK.” and Clem, while realizing something, says, “OK” and sort of laughs and cries at the same time.
I interpreted this in two ways: 1) it could mean that even if the relationship falls a part, they both realize they prefer to be with each and at least enjoy the relationship while it lasts; 2) it could mean that they’ve accepted that there are limitations in the relationship and the other person, but ultimately these limitations doesn’t mean the relationship is bad or has to end. I think both interpretations are valid, but the second resonated with me, just because it’s something I can relate to. In a relationship—even a really good one—there are things you really don’t like about the other person or aspects of the relationship that seem really problematic. But sometimes, in a good relationship, these things don’t matter so much—and there isn’t always a good explanation for this.
Some questions and comments:
1.Does this film have anything insightful or interesting to say about memory? I think one can make a case for this, but after thinking about the film, I couldn’t find any really interesting insights. Mainly, I think the scenes within Joel’s memory and the company that tries to erase them were more clever plot devices to tell a love story.
2. There’s a scene that confused me and I hope someone can help me out. The scene takes place in Barnes and Noble (and occurs before the scene where the Beach House falls apart). Clem has bright red hair and Joel is asking her out. She tells him she’s high maintenance and that she’s just a “fucked-up girl trying to look for her own piece of mind.” It seems like the memory of the day after they both first met. The scene is a bit confusing because in the memories right before this one, Joel and Clem are sort of conscious actors in Joel’s memory, trying to hid Clem so she won’t be erased. But at the start of this scene, they both seem to be acting as they did when the memory actually took place. However, by the end of the scene, they seem to be conscious that they’re in a memory and Joel says they’re relationship might work on a second try.
3. What do people feel about the darker elements involving Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo)?
What stands out to me in the film are the way his thoughts are represented visually. In a part of his memory that’s been erased he sees the vague idea, but every time he tries to turn the man around he just sees the back of his head again. Or, we see all the colors gradually fading out as the memory gets erased. These sorts of ideas are what made what could have been a very shaky concept work perfectly.
My interpretation of the ending is that both decided it was worth risking feeling really bad in order to feel really good. They chose pleasure and pain over neither. I see it as an elegant expression of the ‘Captain Kirk’ philosophy of human experience. “I like my pain!”
In answer to question two, it’s got to be a part of the subconscious tug of war with Joel’s decision to erase the memory of her and that she is a more concrete persona until he starts second guessing or rebelling against the decision.
I’m in the minority here on this film, but I don’t think I would feel bad if someone forced me to go to see Dr. Mierzwiak and have my memory of seeing it wiped.
It reminded me of other “what if” films like A Matter of Life and Death, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven can Wait or Faust where there is some sort of entity, this time a scientific one, offers that bargain to the protagonist.
What stands out to me in the film are the way his thoughts are represented visually.
I agree this is another strength of the film.
I want to also say that the differences between this film and many other films by Gondry and Kaufman are effective protagonists (i.e., ones you care and relationship you buy) and a solid story from beginning to the end. Gondry’s whimsical set-pieces and direction, plus Kaufman’s ultra-cleverness have this solid characters and story to serve rather than the whimsical and clever being ends in and of themselves (not to say that these things can be quite pleaurable and satisfying on their own).
Hmm, I’m not sure what you mean. By “concrete persona” do you mean she has a mind of her own in Joel’s memories? I think she becomes this way once Joel realizes that he doesn’t want to lose the memory of her. Somehow the memory of Clem becomes actively involved in helping Joel hide her. But then we get to Barnes and Noble scene I describe above and she’s either back to being the “memory version” or she’s (they’re) play-acting.
…but Jim Carrey just can’t deliver the emotional range of character that would make me believe the relationship between him…
Well, I can’t say much with regard to this—although is Carrey’s lack of emotional range the problem or the lacke of chemistry between him and Winslet? I think in this film the chemistry is essential. The characters aren’t really interesting by themselves; they’re not fleshed out or mult-dimensional. Ditto the relationship. The film really depends on buying the relationship. For example, their interactions in the train convinced me. I found it humorous (Carrey’s effectiveness as the straight man and Winslet as the wild one surprised me a bit.) and charming. Ultimately, though, I think Winslet just does it for me, so I think the film’s success for me hinged quite a lot on this. In any event, if you didn’t buy the chemisty, I don’t see how the film can work. Moreover, there’s little one can say to defend or prove that they had good chemistry.
I think I meant that his impression of her was more as a distinct persona, even though she is just a figment of his subconscious. The regret he experiences and perhaps out of self preservation for having a violent procedure on his brain switches the perspective of the “Clem” in his head. At least, that’s what I thought. Then again, maybe he was trying to say that we imprint a little of ourselves on each other and she was a sentient presence in his head.
I think I would have been more receptive to this if it hadn’t been Carrey, but who knows?
Oh, I definitely think she was as sentient presence—an entity with a mind of her own—in Joel’s memories. The film doesn’t explain how this is possible, but I don’t think it needed to.
I agree that Winslet’s performance was largely responsible for the necessary emotional heft to the film. Her whimsically colored hair and saccharin name belied her often selfish and unpleasant nature. She subverts the “manic pixie dream girl” trope better than anyone else I can think of off the top of my head.
I’m very interested in hearing you expand on the idea that the film encapsulates the past decade. Do you mean it represents the past decade in terms of the kinds of films that were made and are considered good, or do you mean something else? I think the previous decade is somewhat problematic because unlike the decades from the 20th century it never really had a cohesive mood, theme, idea or what have you. While it saw the creation of the iPod and later the explosion in popularity of online social media, there has been very little that has been truly new from a popular culture perspective. While nostalgia has probably existed since the beginning of history, the 00’s seemed to be a period of unprecedented looking back and borrowing from the (sometimes very recent) past. Maybe this is what you were getting at, maybe not.
I appear to have successfully shut down yet another potentially interesting thread.
" I think the previous decade is somewhat problematic because unlike the decades from the 20th century it never really had a cohesive mood, theme, idea or what have you. "
Every decade seemed like that immediately afterward. It takes a while for them to be definitively framed.
“Every decade seemed like that immediately afterward. It takes a while for them to be definitively framed.”
I’m not entirely sure about that because I remember people were talking about how “80’s” people were calling shoulder pads were in very early 1991 and how 90’s Nirvana was in 2001. While I do think the changes are gradual, I do stand by my original statement.
Britney Spears is totally ‘00s. Peter Jackson’s *Lord of the Rings films are totally ’00s. Beyonce was totally ’00s. Realty TV is totally ’00s . . .
I don’t really see how the film encapsulates the decade. I suppose the idea that, if you’re having issues with your personality the best solution is to take medicine to make you more average is a strictly ‘00s’ idea, and that’s really what the film is about.
I agree Winslet’s performance is crucial.
Yet, a widget.
I love how you’re intentionally trying to bring back that argument in a completely unrelated thread. :)
I see what you’re saying here, even though several of those got their start pre-2000. I just remember when all the lists about popular culture were being made at the end of 2009 (even though 2010 is technically still apart of the last decade but that’s neither here nor there) and I couldn’t trace a unifying thread anywhere, beyond a sort of lack of honesty or substance. I should say now that I’m not one of those people who fetishizes the 90’s as some sort of prefect, progressive utopia where everything was so new and authentic, man, in the same way that the 60’s are regarded.
Well, I think your point about many of the driving forces of culture being technological rather than artistic during the ’00s is a valid one.
I don’t mean to sound like a myopic American when I say that I think the culture of the past decade may have been stunted by 911, the various health scares, and the 2008-onward Recession. In a time when people are scared by an uncertain future, it only makes sense for them to look backwards to what seemed like a happier, simpler time, or at least what reminds them of what that time felt like. I’m firmly out of my depth now.
It’s always been the case though that people idealized ‘The time right before’. In the 90s, conservatives idealized the 50s and the liberals idealized the 60s. I don’t know if the culture was stunted by 9/11 so much as it brought people’s base ideological differences to the surface and broke the spell of naivete and perceived invincibility that hung over the Clinton era. But, the only relation of this film to the unifying thread of the 00s is as Matt mentioned the increasing surrender of will to technology. We no longer want to trust our own eyes, ears, arms, and willpower. We want one gadget for everything.
I also love that you chose the word ‘Widget’. Of all the words you could have chosen to express ‘The actor makes less of a difference than the creative contributors’, you chose the most incendiary language possible, completely reducing the actor to entitiless function. You have truly mastered the art of provocation without hostility, and that makes the board a lot more fun.
Robert should watch the Jonathan Demme interview on the Something Wild disc. For Demme, actors are a part of the creation (and therefore meaning) of the film after the script has been finished, while they were shooting. Hell, he even carefully chose his bit players for the potential creative input they might have to offer. And since there is always a space between the final written draft of a movie at the final cut of a movie – a place where meaning may be found – Jeff Daniels is not a widget.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled discussion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie I very much like but haven’t seen in five or six years. Maybe it’s time to visit it again.
I know that is often the case, however I can only speak for myself when I say I have never been nostalgic for the 80’s. Stunted may have been the wrong word. There was definitely a significant shift in the type of films being made (by hollywood at least) that was prompted by 911. From 99’ to 01’ there was a spate of r-rated summer comedies beginning with the popularity of the first American Pie that came to a screeching halt after 911 and similar movies didn’t start to gain traction until Anchorman, Wedding Crashers, and the the Appatow movies came out. I think probably the most visible example of 911’s effect on film comes in the form of the explosion in popularit of adaptations of superhero comics, which seem quindtessentially American to many and also offers a return to the past (whether that means whenever the viewer was young and first became interested in comics or it means the golden age of comics).
I’m very interested in hearing you expand on the idea that the film encapsulates the past decade. Do you mean it represents the past decade in terms of the kinds of films that were made and are considered good, or do you mean something else?
Actually, I wasn’t really sure of what I meant—and I was hoping someone could help me out! (And, no, you didn’t shut down the thread—at least with regard to my lack of response.) I think I primarily meant that when we look back at some of the noteworthy films of the 2000s, this would be one of the films mentioned—not only for the quality of the film, but because it was a film from an emerging filmmaker (or a filmmaker of that time period—I admit this is not very articulate). I do think Charlie Kaufman will be a filmmaker we think of when we mention filmmakers (American ones, anyway) of the 2000s—and I think this might be his best film.
Jirin said, …you have truly mastered the art of provocation without hostility…
I don’t want to get into this discussion again—especially in this thread—but, fwiw, I have to say that while “widget” may not be hostile, I do think it’s disrespectful and a bit offensive.
My premature frustration was due mostly to the last few active threads I inserted myself into suddenly stagnating.
Even though Being John Malkovich was released in 1999 I think you’re correct in saying that when people think of 2000’s directors Kaufman will be on most lists. I personally can’t say for sure that Eternal Sunshine is his best film but it is definitely his most popular/acclaimed and will probably stay that way. I think one aspect of the films of the 2000’s it may represent is the significant rise in popularity of the “designer indie”. The kind of film I’m referring to is one with a small budget (relative to the typical hollywood blockbuster, at least) featuring at least one a-lister (though this is sometimes the exception) that has some level of palatable “quirkiness” or “grittiness” to it and is picked up by the “boutique” divisions of the major studios/distributors (Warner Independent, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features) and is then marketed with the same ferocity as a blockbuster. They often are critical and commercial successes (or one or the other) and are nominated for and sometimes win Academy Awards. The actual quality of these films seems to have been very uneven while I think this phenomenon may have started prior to the past decade it was seen in upredecented abundance in recent years.
I think one aspect of the films of the 2000’s it may represent is the significant rise in popularity of the “designer indie”.
Yeah, I think there’s something to what you say. Independent films seemed to rise in stature—both in terms of getting more attention from the general public as well as from Hollywood—in the 90s, but in the 2000s, the merging of Hollywood and a kind of independent filmmaking merged and refined into the type of “designer indie” I think you’re talking about. There’s that quirkness, but also a sense of polish and high production value (in terms of the look and type of stars) that the independent films of the 90s seemed to lack. I’m thinking of Wes Anderson’s later films or Sophia Coppola; maybe a film like Juno.
I also think the music and vibe of the film captures the times—similar to the way we think of a John Hughes film capturing the 80s somehow. (Again, maybe I’m completely off base, as my feelings about this matter are pretty vague.)
Another development I neglected to point out is that the aforementioned “boutique” divisions of the major studios were founded in the past decade or have greatly increased the output and visibility of the of the films they release in the past decade. Another point worth mentioning is that the overwhelming majority of the designer indies debuted at Sundance before being snatched up by a major distributor. It is no secret that Sundance has been increasingly maligned as being just another Hollywood outpost at odds with the initial intent of the festival. There were plenty of successful indie films in the 90’s that became household names but the difference there was that by and large the directors and casts were unknowns (Clerks being the primary example) and the designer indie’s came with built-in buzz from their big name stars (Napoleon Dynamite and Slumdog Millionaire are two exceptions, though slumdog had Danny Boyle) . A subgroup of the big-name-small-film strategy is the noted comedic actor pursuing a (semi)dramatic role; Punch Drunk Love, Dan in Real Life, and of course Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are good examples. The reason I placed quirkiness and grittiness in quotation marks is because they are often calculated and manufactured moves made by the directors to give a film the superficial indie cred but not so much as to discourage being picked up by a major distributor. I guess I’m trying to say that the whole desinger indie business seems very disengenuous and artificial (though films like Eternal Sunshine and Broken Flowers are not necessarily a part of it, they certainly benefit from it). The later films of Wes Anderson and Juno perfect examples. Almost every year there has been at least one boutique indie that has been exceedingly popular and is often up for multiple Oscars. Lost in Translation, Sideways, Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, Precious, Black Swan etc.
Are you saying that the music of Eternal Sunshine specifically captures the times? I guess that’s fair, since most of Jon Brion’s film scoring took place in the last decade, though I think the single song most associated with the film is Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra, which is of course far earlier than the 2000’s
Focusing on the songs is not essential. Films from other decades have done the same thing, like GoodFellas or Pulp Fiction. They used songs from previous eras to emphasize the story. You can make a case more for Goodfellas using music of its time period, but ultimately, when I hear Monkey Man, all I can think of is Ray Liotta and a cocaine binge.
That’s what I was getting. I’ll never be able to separate Roy Orbison’s In Dreams from Dean Stockwell’s miming in Blue Velvet.
Kevon said, The reason I placed quirkiness and grittiness in quotation marks is because they are often calculated and manufactured moves made by the directors to give a film the superficial indie cred but not so much as to discourage being picked up by a major distributor.
I agree about this although one has to be careful about saying which film this applies to. Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, yes; not so much with filmmakers like Gondry, Wes Anderson or Kaufman, imo.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I associate the soundtrack and score with this type of indie-Hollywood movie that you’re talking about, which seems to have come into its own during the decade. Strangely, even though some of the songs are older, they sound pretty contemporary (including the ELO song and the last one in the film, “Change Your Heart”—love the latter, btw).
Another thing that makes me think this is a film of the 2000s is the “nerdy” protagonist. My feeling is that one of the distinctive qualities of the decade is a kind of “nerd ascendency.” More films seemed to push nerdier, quieter characters from the background into the foreground—they also moved away from uglier stereotypes. I’m thinking of the way actors like Michael Sera, Jesse Eisenberg or even Tobey Maguire and Joseph Gordon Leavitt became viable leads. Eternal Sunshine is also part of that trend, I think.
I definitely agree that a distinction should be made between true designer indies and movies from directors that are simply fortunate enough to have been able to ride the wave. I think the most important thing to Gondry and Kaufman is their own vision and they have made some great movies but have definitely benefited from a market interested in outside-of-the-norm movies. Wes Anderson’s placement in all this is a little more hazy to me since he seems acutely aware of the trend and there has definitely been a shift in the tone of his work. Ever since Tenenbaums he has crammed as many A-listers as he can into his casts and seems much more interested in sets and art direction than character development or plot. A lot of people seem to like his movies because while they are “off-beat” and again “quirky” with their music from yesterday and set in a slightly ambiguous time and place but with tons of recognizable faces. That’s not to so say I didn’t enjoy watching The Life Aquatic while it was happening, from the David Bowie soundtrack to the nod to Buckaroo Banzai in the closing credits, but his films seem easily digestible fare that makes some people feel like they’ve seen something “creative” or “different”.
I have a better grasp on what you’re saying now in regards to the soundtrack. I think the song used in the marketing is the often the one most associated with the film. I had made a similar comment a few years ago about how you could always tell it was going to be “one of those movies” when you heard a mid-tempo acoustic indie soft rock/folk song in the trailer, especially if a ukulele figured into it somehow. The songs are often on the obscure side or several decades. This isn’t meant as a criticism of the songs themselves since I do like some of them, but the pattern is obvious. I think after taking all the elements mentioned abov into account Blue Valentine is the designer indie version of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.
I think you’re spot on with the “nerd ascendancy”. These protagonists are often portrayed as more enlightened and introspective in respect to their peers, if socially awkward. I think one of the best examples of the nerd protagonist is Napoleon Dynamite, though I doubt Heder will ever be able to repeat that success. He seems to be aware of this as well considering his involvement in a cartoon series version of the film coming to Fox.
I think another interesting dimension to this is that just about every designer indie has little to no trace of a non-white prescence (Slumdog and Precious being notable exceptions).