Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Tomorrow is not just another regular Wednesday, but it is also the tenth anniversary of the release of the brilliant Michel Gondry-Charile Kaufman collaboration Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film, a cultural staple and one of the fundamental building blocks to contemporary hipster culture is one of the great masterpieces of that decade. It's modern classic status is completely warranted, and when the great Film Experience blog decided to dedicate an episode of its great series "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" to the film, I used it as a perfect excuse to revisit one of my personal favorites and write about it from a perspective that I never considered before. I remember seeing the film twice in the theaters when it originally came out in 2004 (then just a high school freshman, still smarting about the recent Lord of the Rings Oscar takeover), and I have watched it at least a dozen times (probably more) since then. This time around, I became compelled by Gondry's wondrous direction. I've always felt that Eternal Sunshine is one of the most visually innovative films I've ever seen, but so much credit usually goes to Charlie Kaufman's Oscar winning script - and rightfully so, he was already considered a screenwriting master and this was his finest work. But while Kaufman's stamp is undeniable, Gondry's unorthodox style is all over this film.

Here is the shot that I went with:

Gondry went to great extents to visualize the tenuous nature of memories and dreams. In this shot, from earlier in the film, Joel is getting a memory erased from just a moment before the procedure began. The way Gondry disorients the viewer, keeping the background out of focus, is very disturbing - we are still in the film's first half hour and are not yet acclimated to the film's visual style. I remember the suffocating feeling I had when I first saw this sequence, the way it makes you try and force your eyes to see things that can't be seen. It's an inspired stroke and an incredible example of visual storytelling. As the film continues, his techniques become less severe and his choices have more of a charming flourish. Baby Joel being bathed in the sink, characters and objects disappearing in front of our eyes, etc; but this moment is the one that begins the process and it's the most effective, I find. Gondry never really capitalized on the promise of Eternal Sunshine (not that Kaufman fared much better; his next film, his directorial debut, Synechdoche, New York was a brilliant deconstruction on the misery of life, but it was never truly understood in its time and became a rather large failure that he still hasn't truly recovered from), but his work in this film showed what he was capable when provided with the right material.

One can spend their entire life finding great things within Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a masterpiece of melancholia and romance, both funny and heartbreaking. Like all great films, it changes with each viewing. Different shots take on different connotations at different points of your life. I did not expect to choose a shot from the "McRomance!" sequence in the movie, but alas, it's a sign of this movie's greatness that it keeps on surprising me.



keeps on surprising it does. I hadn't even remembered this scene when i revisted the movie and also found it fascinating how early we realize the procedure has begun. it's practically just after the opening credits.

Tele Gram said...

Being drawn into this film at the same age as you (I was also a freshman in college) I can express the same sentiments over the mood and style of Eternal Sunshine. Gondry first captivated my attention with his video to Daft Punk's "Around the World" and I've followed his work since. The camera work of unfocused and oblique angles, not mention deceptively basic tricks like turning Elijah Wood's character around but it just ends up on his back again (do you recall?) made the film unlike much of what was coming out at that time. Then again, Focus Features was still relatively new and many other titles in its early catalog were doing very creative things in cinema that went unnoticed. I want to hear more about this "hipster aesthetic" - not sure what you mean by that, but I do know that there is a sickeningly sentimental following around this film, probably for the same reason I have one: because I broke up with someone I loved.