Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Favourite Films on Friday: #01, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is my favourite film. It will probably remain my favourite film forever, and now I am etching that onto the stainless steel face of the internet, where it will stay as long as I pay my URL fees. How’s that for commitment? It’s one of the few films on this list that I’d also argue is in the running for the Best Film of All Time. That’s not something I’d ever say about last week’s #2, Fight Club – its importance is too personal, too tied to my own history. But I have very few memories tied to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which, luckily, stops this from straying anywhere too autobiographical like some entries have tended to. Eternal Sunshineis a film firing on cylinders, every element hitting every note perfectly at the same time, in a way I’ve never seen since. Actors, director, writer, photography, soundtrack, effects … all objectively perfect. Fact. It starts out looking like an indie romance film. Joel Barish wakes up bored with his life – as narrated in a gravelly, remorseful whisper – and impulsively ditches work to go somewhere beautiful and desolate. There he meets the quirky Clementine Kruczynski, and they, awkwardly, fall for each other. Nothing particularly special there – this first 20 minutes is an actor’s piece, director and writer waiting for their time to show off, and Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet sell it perfectly. It’s not an easy task, as proved by all the other indie slice-of-life romances I watched afterwards, to make a relationship interesting and convincing so quickly. Then, with a flourish, we jump back and suddenly Joel is in his car, crying and listening to Beck’s cover of Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime. The film is structured non-linearly; roughly speaking, it rewinds through Joel and Clementine’s relationship to show us first how it went wrong and then later, why it worked. Unlike the tight formal structure of Memento, though, it’s not that simple – the rewinding takes place inside Joel’s head, as the men he has hired to wipe all his memories of Clementine do just that. It’s all interwoven with segments arranged in order,  with a b-plot telling the story of the guys doing the memory wiping. And, it turns out, the start of the film is also actually the end – Joel and Clementine are meeting again, by apparent chance. The split between internal and external allows Michel ‘le réalisateur’ Gondry, and Charlie ‘the author’ Kaufman chances to shine. Gondry is another director with a background in music videos and adverts, one of my favourite creators in any medium who has never quite found another cinematic vehicle for his tremendous imagination. The fantasy world of Joel’s memory provides Gondry with a chance to play his trompe l’oeil tricks – characters disappear and reappear wearing different clothes, apparently in the same take; streets endlessly mirror themselves; remembered locations blend into one another – and fiddle with cinematic techniques to reflect the process of memory loss. Meanwhile, Kaufman finds a clever sci-fi concept – of a company who can wipe your powerful memories, Lacuna Inc, who can unremember it for you wholesale. It’s an idea which can dig under your skin, so you find yourself wondering in idle moments what exactly you’d delete from your past. But then, even better, he finds the mundaneity and reality in it. Lacuna’s offices are reminiscent of a trip to the dentist; the memory-wipers enjoy a few beers, a joint, and the contents of Joel’s booze cupboard while he sleeps. It matches up with the slightly wonky sci-fi tech that Gondry conjures – the upturned-colander that sits on the patient’s head, the slightly retro computers – and gives it all sense and meaning, reigning in his excesses. In return, Kaufman’s writing is lent a rare warmth and humanity. It’s the classic odd couple – sloppy meets clinical – and the contrast makes both stronger. Notably, neither has another film on this list, and very few of the actors involved appear in any of the other 49 either. The ensemble cast, far beyond Carrey and Winslet – both cast against type, playing the role the other would traditionally fill, and proving they should have been doing this all along – is flawless. Elijah Wood, as ever, benefits from being cast as a character with a bit of a sleazy dark streak; Mark Ruffalo is one of cinema’s most loveable slackers; Kirsten Dunst was always meant to play the confused young girl in love; Tom Wilkinson is never anything less than fantastic. Each of those parts – clever indie romance, surrealist dream sequences, inventive but grounded sci-fi – would be enough to guarantee a place on this list. But they form a whole more than the simple sum of its parts, creating a world with a whimsical sense of unreality, but exactly as much reality as is needed to sell the emotions. Oh, the emotions. Joel and Clementine quickly feel like a real couple. As we rewind through their past (at least, in one strand of the film) it becomes clear, through the fog of all the arguments, why they’re together in the first place. In one of the most freeing moments I’ve ever seen in a film, the two accept that, yes, it will all go horribly wrong, but it’s worth it. And then the endless, beautiful futility of it all is played out in a moment repeated over and over, skipping and eventually fading into purest white. And that’s all enough to catch in my throat, but the stakes are higher than the traditional romantic threat of the two being parted – the permanence of memories and feelings are in jeopardy too. There’s something sacred about memory, a lesson I’ve been bludgeoned over the head with over the last year, and Eternal Sunshine reaches the only logical conclusion – in the end, for all our follies and humiliations, our past – every last awful part of it – is as […]

ALEX: {7} Years of Manic Pixie Dream Girls

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Okay, folks, we’re going on a journey here. It’s not going to be quick and it’s not going to be easy. But this is probably one of the most in-depth, heartfelt things I’ve ever written for this site. Hey, you might even learn something! …And if that doesn’t entice you, I promise you’ll get to see at least one of these lovely ladies’ crotches by the time we’re through. “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition.” -Nathan Rabin, The Bataan Death March of Whimsy {2010}Ramona Flowers Ever-changing hair-colour Funny name Kickass fighting moves Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl at the beginning of 2007, in relation to Kirsten Dunst’s character in a film made in 2005 (Elizabethtown). Like any phrase-coining, this was already a bit after the event: even by 2005, the M.P.D.G. had started to irreversibly infect 21st Century pop-culture. So we begin, quirky as the Pixie Girl herself, at the end. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the most recently-released film I’ve seen in dialogue with the M.P.D.G.. Ramona Flowers is a Bad Girl With A Dark History And, like, Complex Emotions. But as many hair colours as the hipster rainbow. Ramona is Scott Pilgrim’s dream-girl, and she pulls him by the hand into a mysterious new world. In the interests of fairness, it has to be said that hanging the M.P.D.G. sandwich-board around her neck is to do some disservice to Edgar Wright’s film and, especially, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original comic version, which ran (from 2004 to 2010) alongside the development of this phenomenon, spends a lot of its later volumes unpicking these idealised notions. Any M.P.D.G.-ness is projected onto her by Scott’s skewed worldview. She emphatically doesn’t like the same music, and is hardly the ball of energy you’d expect from a straight-up example of the trope. O’Malley’s Ramona is at least partly a deconstruction of the M.P.D.G.; Wright’s Ramona is a bit more of an embrace. The film follows the narrative arc of Rabin’s definition perfectly: movie-Scott has more Serious Brooding Young Man (S.B.Y.M. being the inevitable mirror-image and result of M.P.D.G.) about him, and in either version, Ramona leads to him discovering the wider world. With kung-fu! Ramona is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that men decided was a Manic Pixie. The Girl they decided you’ve got to fight for to win. But those men were all Evil, right? {2009}Summer Finn Encyclopaedic knowledge of indie-rock Dresses like she fell through a vintage shop is played by Zooey Deschanel Summer, meanwhile, is the kind of girl you lose by fighting. {500} Days of Summer is by far at its weakest (and it is half-really-good and half-really-rubbish) as Summer ticks off the M.P.D.G. boxes. The magic begins when she says she likes The Smiths. The Smiths! And Belle & Sebastian. An unusual taste in Beatles records. She has, like, the quirkiest apartment! And before you know it, our hero is throwing himself into life with a new vigour… At its best, the film makes a consistent argument for tearing the archetype apart. The key, best scene contrasts ‘Expectations’ and ‘Reality’, pitching the hopes of that brooding young man against reality. For a couple of minutes, it rails against the whole misguided fantasy of Tom and every other sensitive music-loving guy with a fringe he stands for. It’s one of the times the film rings really, really true, and it provides the only moment that drove that great big icicle into my heart. …But most of the time it doesn’t do that thing. {500} Days of Summer warns you from the start that this isn’t your standard-issue love story, but its targets are too scattered to mean that the film approaches any convincing realism or scathing satire. Most of the time, it just attacks the classic Hollywood romcom. And that’s hardly new: right here we’ve got a history of alt-romcoms in the early 21st Century. Which have developed their own conventions and though the film makes occasional warning shots in this direction, it doesn’t have the conviction – or, to be fair, the time – to subvert these conventions. And so we get the most straight-down-the-line M.P.G.D. of recent years. And she is hateful. Summer as she exists in this film – and it’s probably important to note that it is The Boy’s film – is pure Expectations. Maybe that’s all within the film’s intention: when those expectations are broken, hearts are too. But she’s also an absolute wank-fantasy of a girl. And so, if you’re me, you spend a lot of time sighing and wondering if this is really the only female character this kind of lifestyle produces: you know, drunk karaoke, quirky traditions, indie records and good films. Is this the only kind of girl boys with a great collection of band t-shirts can fancy? {2007}Juno MacGuff Speaks in pop-culture references Owns a hamburger-phone Pregnant …Because who doesn’t fancy Juno? Okay, she’s not a true M.P.D.G. in that she doesn’t take her boy on a journey of infinite wonderful discovery. Which is mostly because: this isn’t Paulie Bleeker’s film, it’s Juno’s – clue’s in the title, dummy – and so she gets to control the viewpoint. It’s possible that an entirely hypothetical other film exists within this one, where we see it from Bleeker’s viewpoint and Juno is that girl. But that doesn’t matter too much, because I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that as the trope has grown and seeped into reality, the cloud of traits around the M.P.D.G. begins to condense into solid totems, around which a generation of girls lay tribute. M.P.D.G. isn’t just a stock character anymore, it’s a series of tics and signifiers. It’s a lifestyle you can choose. And if they’re doing that because it’s them, or they’re […]