Posted by Ed
Spring break at Chicago is about to end, and now I plan to return to several of my usual routines. First, though I haven't exactly been goofing off lately, I plan to spend more time on dissertation research. (I've read a lot of Soviet history over the last week, but I've still only been working at about half or two-thirds my usual rate.) Second, I plan to return to a more usual blogging schedule. Third, I expect that I'll be watching fewer movies over the next month, since I've seen more movies in the last week than in all the rest of the year combined.
I felt an urge to write something for this blog tonight, and since I was short on ideas, here are some random thoughts on the three movies I saw over break:
What impressed me most about Eternal Sunshine was its sense of realism--which surprised me, given that the movie's surrealistic scenes have gotten a lot more attention. I was really struck by how the movie portrayed the relationship between Joel and Clementine, for example. The opening dialogue between them was extremely engaging, and got me hooked on the movie; Winslet appears as an ebullient, eccentric, and (perhaps) self-destructive woman, while Carrey portrayed a shy but likable man. Each of these performances was convincing. I've often felt that Carrey missed the opportunity of a lifetime when he decided against becoming a mime, since he clearly has some talent as a physical comedian but becomes unbearably annoying once he opens his mouth; in this movie, he restrained himself and put in a creditable performance. (His character may have been a bit dull and underdeveloped, but that could just as easily be the fault of the script--or it may be that Joel was meant to be an unexciting but likeable man.) Clementine, furthermore, came across as the sort of character who's lots of fun to watch, but who you wouldn't want to have to deal with on a personal basis. Eternal Sunshine presented both characters as real, flawed, intriguing, and sympathetic characters, and by the end, their relationship--and the problems within it--also seemed very real. When Clementine and Joel describe what drove them crazy about their former lovers near the end of the movie, you get the sense that each person's criticisms were both convincing and largely correct.
My reaction to the movie wasn't completely straightforward and positive, however. Eternal Sunshine featured several subplots involving the people who worked at Lacuna, and I didn't think these subplots were terribly successful. (I can't really explain why without spoiling some of the movie's plot twists, though in each case, I suspect that viewers will be able to figure out what's going on without too much help anyway.) For a variety of reasons, the movie lost momentum about half or two thirds of the way through, though there were still some very good scenes late in the movie.
One of the problems with a movie like Eternal Sunshine is that lots of people will feel that they really ought to like it, to the point that they don't notice its flaws. In this sense, it's a lot like Shakespeare in Love, one of the most over-rated--and shallow--movies of recent years, which has somehow won a reputation as a "smart" movie. Eternal Sunshine is much better, but reading reviews and commentary about it, I get the sense that a lot of people enjoyed the movie without really understanding it. I'm not even convinced that I caught on to all its twists, but that might just be another sign that the movie succeeds in looking smart without necessarily being smart... There are several places where the story line isn't completely logical, but the script does its best to hide the flaws in the plot.
Finally, a lot of viewers see Eternal Sunshine as they want to see it--and not necessarily as it's meant to be seen. I've seen several different reviews and commentaries that describe the movie as romantic, for example. But is this really true? In several scenes, Clementine urges Joel to hang on to his memories of her, which might give sentimental viewers the idea that the movie is meant to be romantic; if you really think about the movie, however, you realize that the Clementine who urges Joel to remember her is a figment of his imagination, and that the real Clementine never had second thoughts about her decision. And it's a serious mistake to view the conclusion to the movie as an unambigously happy ending. It seems overly simplistic to describe Eternal Sunshine as a romantic movie, and its complexity is one of its main strengths.
(For an interesting essay on the science behind the movie, see this Steven Johnson article in Slate.)
Posted by Ed at March 28, 2004 11:16 PM