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Blu-Ray Review: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

In Case You’ve Forgotten How Great This Film Is!

rating: 4.5

Charlie Kaufman is one of the half-dozen greatest scriptwriters working in Hollywood today and every actor who gets to utter his words should count themselves lucky. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, now available on Blu-Ray, won him what will, I have no doubt, be the first of many Oscars and it isn€™t even his best work. Yes, I know Aaron Sorkin writes better individual lines and The Coen Brothers create richer characters and Allan Loeb is, well, busier € but no one gets into the foundations of narrative and deconstructs a story whilst telling it quite like Charlie Kaufman. His films are clever and they make you feel clever while you€™re watching them! If you€™re at all interested to read the kind of scripts that writing gurus live in fear of (because they don€™t conform to arbitrary rules of structure and style) you can read all of his produced scripts here on his unofficial (but exhaustively and lovingly compiled) website. These are available for free implicitly with Kaufman€™s blessing because, I imagine, if he were unhappy about this, with just a phone-call, he could have it shut down and he hasn€™t! Meanwhile, back at his Gordian plot: Eternal Sunshine is, at heart, a simple love story € Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again € But Kaufman approaches this simple structure like a novelist, unravelling it and wrapping it back up in a completely different way; he uses our familiarity with it and plays with both us and it. This is about as non-linear a film as you are ever likely to see, jumping around, seemingly randomly, between beginning, middle and end. Like Christopher Nolan€™s Memento, this film relies on forgetfulness but, unlike Nolan€™s taut, anxiously precise film, this story doesn€™t proceed in a strict reverse gear, instead it jumps around within its own continuity and manages to run backwards and forwards at the same time. That makes the film sound nose-bleedingly complex and yet it is surprisingly easy to follow, because director Michel Gondry is a master of creating dream imagery. Therefore we can spot the difference between actual reality and altered dream reality instantly. During the lucid dreaming scenes, the dialogue between Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst feeds into the visions we see. Structurally, this is a work of genius, weaving the waking and sleeping plots together so effortlessly yet skilfully. The early scenes, when Joel (Jim Carrey) encounters Clementine (Kate Winslet) are accompanied by whimsical music plinky-plonking away in the background and giving the film the air of a dated children€™s programme. But that€™s not unusual for Michel Gondry. Like Kaufman, he is an artist with very much his own vision, part childish fantasy, part animation, with a surrealist€™s disregard for logic and physics. This is most often seen in his pop videos. It is even evident in his early work, such as the 1989 video for the French band Oui-Oui (for whom Gondry was also drummer): And here in the 1993 live-action Thomas Dolby video €˜Close But No Cigar€™ But his art found its greatest expression when he collaborated with the equally barmy Björk on her first solo single €˜Human Behaviour€™: You€™ll see that his love of in-camera effects which create a deliberate and dreamlike sense of artifice is already fully-formed here. He likes his films to look home-made, an idea which clearly found its greatest expression in the €˜sweded€™ films of Be Kind, Rewind (2008). That film had a brilliant central idea, but ultimately disappoints because Gondry wrote it as well as directing it. He needed a word-smith to help him bring his visuals to unforgettable life, much as he has here. Kaufman and Gondry together have brilliantly interwoven their ideas on consciousness and perception into sequences which contain both beautiful ideas and beautiful images! The film goes from just good to great at the moment she suggests he takes her and hides in old memories, memories that she isn€™t already in, memories they won€™t think to erase her from. One of the most haunting ideas in this film is the way we see the memory Joel is in being erased around him, initially in subtle ways such as the books behind him on the bookshop shelves losing their titles. It€™s the details that go first but, as the drama accelerates, it becomes a headlong run to stay ahead of buildings collapsing and disappearing. The performances of Carrey and Winslet are charming and entirely convincing. Yes, Winslet wins awards for playing traditional, stereotypically-English-thespian type roles, but she clearly enjoys cutting loose and letting her hair down in films like Hideous Kinky (1998), Holy Smoke (1999) and this. Carrey, of course, has been dallying with take-me-serious roles throughout his career and, to be fair, is doing so with considerably more success than some of his contemporaries, but he has never been better, subtler or more convincing than he is here. In the time-honoured dichotomy, the terribly lonely Joel finds that, once he has the relationship he craves, he can€™t commit to it, not until he is in the process of losing it! We believe in their relationship. It isn€™t normal, but then whose is? Importantly, having two central performances that are so easy-going and convincing helps us get over the hump of believing in Lacuna, the company with the macguffin device that wipes memories. (Lacuna, in case you haven€™t Wikipedia€™d it, means a gap; either a silent pause in a piece of music or a missing piece of text in a document). This cutting-edge piece of twenty-first century technology appears to be lashed together from a kitchen colander and a 1980s electronic typewriter. Operators, Ruffalo, Wood and Tom Wilkinson utter the requisite techno-babble whilst gazing knowledgeably at the nonsense on the 8-bit screen, but no one is trying to make the tech credible. This isn€™t science fiction, it€™s a romance, not even a scientific romance, really but a proper old-fashioned wish-fulfilment fantasy. So, we have the lovers hiding in memories, literally changing Joel€™s mind, while the Lacuna people are struggling to do their job and erase those memories. There is a real feel of the chase movie about this, despite the fact that it revolves around a man lying in a bed. And, as jaw-droppingly impressive as the ideas and performances we€™ve seen so far are, the film€™s master-stroke comes in its last fifteen minutes €“ which I won€™t even hint at here. But stay, even the film€™s very last shot (again, rather like a Chris Nolan film I could mention) is full of meaning and alters your view of everything you€™ve seen before. Few films warrant the description €˜masterpiece€™. This does. But, thing is, if you think Kaufman€™s work in this film is good € Watch Adaptation! Don€™t expect glorious high-def digital splendour from this film because it was shot mostly hand-held and, as often as not, using available light. This gives the film a grainy feel which, of course, is accentuated in merciless 1080. The blacks aren€™t really black, more a hazy grey, and the rest of the colours are washed out and faded like an aged Polaroid photo. But what are photos if they aren€™t memories that fade?

Extras:

This will all seem very familiar to those who have the DVD and they are all, so far as I can tell, delivered here in standard def. Audio Commentary with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman Kaufman is one of those writers who likes to let his scripts speak to the viewer / reader themselves. He isn€™t particularly interested in revealing his meanings. Gondry, meanwhile, is either unable or unwilling to switch-off his mischievous sense of humour, meaning that this commentary is a joy to listen to, but tells you virtually nothing about the film. A far more in-depth insight into Kaufman€™s work in general is this hour-and-a-quarter-long interview at the Göteborg International Film Festival earlier this year: Deleted Scenes - 26 mins These scenes €“ as is often the case with deleted scenes €“ add little to the movie, and their inclusion would have only really slowed the pace. They do add flesh to the bones of Joel and Clementine€™s relationship € But it is flesh that was probably better guessed at rather than known. Inside 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' €“ 11.30 €“ Bog-standard mini-documentary that was designed for the miniature attention spans of MTV-type TV channels (people who, in other words, probably wouldn€™t go to see the film anyway). Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry €“ 15.30 €“ Interestingly, this isn€™t one of those €˜I love you€™, €˜Well I love you€™ things that you might expect of Carrey, instead it is a serious discussion about the film€™s visual style. But Carrey clearly has an artist€™s eye. Have you seen his website? It€™s very cerebral and not a little odd! Much like this film! Watch some of the videos in the €˜Trulife€™ section and tell me he hasn€™t been infected by Gondry€™s view of the world! Conversation with Kate Winslet and Director Michel Gondry - 14.20 €“ Winslet does the Brit thing and ribs Gondry mercilessly about his French accent. Inside the Mind of Director Michel Gondry - 19.45 €“ By the time you get to this item, you won€™t need telling about Gondry€™s own peculiar vision, you€™ll have already seen ample demonstrations of it, but here it is sort-of explained. Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue €“ 17.20 €“ The most traditional of extras shows you the industrial magic of the special effects, this analysis of the most effect-heavy scene in the film, shows you, once again, how far from traditional Gondry€™s working methods are. The Polyphonic Spree €œLight & Day€ Music Video €“ 3 mins €“ It€™s a pop video. For completists only. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is available now on Blu-ray.
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John Ashbrook has been publishing half-assed opinions about films, TV shows et al for twenty years now. He's hosted radio shows, taught Film Studies, written books and magazine articles by the cartload and now composes his own film review blog The Cellulord is Watching ... (www.cellulord.co.uk). Of course, what he *really* wants to do is direct.