Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Realistic Intimacy Amid the Surreal

Sometimes love, as it's depicted on screen, seems too romanticized to feel real. Love on film is epic. Men risk life and limb for it while the object of their affections swoon in ecstasy. Love on film is Ryan Gosling in a rain storm telling Rachel McAdams that he's waited for her all these years and built her the house of her dreams. (You can't beat a sexy bearded man and prime real estate.) It is Ralph Fiennes in a too-small bathtub with Kristin Scott Thomas (making it look cozy instead of cramped) declaring that he owns the hollow at the base of her neck and somehow making the possessiveness seem beautiful and not creepy. As Judi Dench says in Shakespeare in Love, "They make it pretty, they make it comical, or they make it lust, but they cannot make it true."

Film very rarely captures all the little, mundane things that encompass a relationship–the messiness and the silences. The everyday things that make it feel lived-in. Which is why it seems odd to think that one of the most truthful relationships on screen involves the out-there concept of a couple erasing each other from their memories. Somehow Michel Gondry's mind-bending film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, from Charlie Kaufman's Oscar-winning script, with all its imaginative flights of fancy seems to keep its couple grounded in reality. And 10 years after its release, it still feels as fresh as ever in its storytelling and remains one cinema's best and most honest love stories. That film's relationship is also the center of this year's inaugural edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

Eternal Sunshine has always held a special place for me since the first time I saw it in the theaters 10 years ago. I went because I loved the weird worlds that Charlie Kaufman had created with his previous screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and, of course, for my favorite actress, Kate Winslet. I went in with high admiration for both already, but came out of the theatre with an even greater adoration. The work from both was new and exciting. Kaufman had managed to give us the cerebral head-trip we had come to expect from his work, but elevated it by giving it a pulsing heart. While Kate as Clementine Kruczynski seemed infused with a different energy. Usually restrained to period films, she came alive in her orange hoodie and multi-colored hair as if we'd never seen her on-screen before. I saw the film 3 times in the movie theatre (which at the time was a lot of money for me) finding new things to discover at each viewing. And rewatching it again this past weekend for the countless time, I was still uncovering and still moved by Joel and Clementine's story.

The moment that always affects me the most is the one that I've chosen as my Best Shot. Joel (Jim Carrey, also at his best) is in the process of erasing his former girlfriend Clementine from his memory. After one too many fights, perhaps already starting to drift apart, the two have broken up for good. Joel discovers that Clementine has already had him erased from her own memory (she's the impulsive one) and Joel, more in retaliation than actual want, decides to undergo the procedure as well. But as the memories of the couple are replayed in his mind, he realizes that whatever present pain he might feel is not worth the lose of the love he had. It is in this moment that is the turning point in the film.

The couple, nestled under the covers, perhaps on a lazy Sunday, are protected from the outside world. The light shines through the blanket like sun through a chapel's stained-glass window, illuminating Clementine as she makes a confession. When she was little she had an ugly doll that she gave her name to. She would yell at it to be pretty hoping that it would transform herself as well. Its the kind of painful memory that shaped Clementine into becoming the woman she is. By allowing Joel to peer into her soul with such trust, free of judgment, she allows her love to make herself vulnerable to him. At that moment, it is just the two of them. That intimacy that they share is the catalyst Joel needs to remember that this is what love is all about. It is ugly and beautiful. It's not being afraid to share yourself with someone else among a fort of blankets and secrets. Knowing that no matter what animosity may later arise, there was always glimmers of close perfection. Quite simply, it was real.


  1. this is lovely and so true about its honesty despite the sci-fi premise. Isn't it weird how genre can sometimes be more relevant / honest aabout the way we live than straightforward drama/comedy pictures.

    1. thanks, nathaniel! i know–it feels that with this film in particular, there are so many different types of genres within it (comedy, romance, sci-fi, drama) that it feels truer because life is made up of all those. it isn' just one thing.