Victoria Jelinek


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-posterI recently read an article in Aeon Magazine, which investigates the scientific possibilities and implications of purging one’s “bad” memories. * Haunted by news stories and images of traumatized children in the Middle East, and as a teacher to troubled adolescents, I find my opinion is conflicted: memories construct who we are, for-better-or-for-worse, but there are such horrible things that happen…Hungry for more insight into the subject (and a film buff) I decided to re-watch the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In it, introvert Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) meets outgoing Clementine (Kate Winslet) and they start a tumultuous relationship. Then one day, Clementine doesn’t recognize Joel and he finds out that she had all of her memories of him removed. Angry and hurt, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure, but in the process of it he finds that he has second thoughts.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is ingenious. His films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are also high concept ideas that explore neurosis and the possibilities of the mind scientifically and perceptually. The movie begins slowly, as we experience the confusion Joel feels because his girlfriend suddenly doesn’t know him, with him. However, once Joel discovers she has had her memories of him wiped out and decides to have the same procedure done on himself, the bulk of the action takes place over one night in his rapidly disintegrating memory. When Joel’s subconscious decides that the procedure is a bad idea and he enlists the ‘memory’ of Clementine to help him escape, the film moves at a rapid pace. Here, director Michel Gondry showcases true visual verve (and most of the effects are created in camera!) as we delve into repressed memories, teenage humiliation, and childhood helplessness. But then a miracle happens — just as Joel’s situation seems most hopeless, the tone of the film becomes more hopeful. We travel through Joel’s mind back to those initial, profoundly romantic first days with Clementine, and we are able to view both the beginning and the end of a relationship at the exact same time. It’s poignant and beautiful. At this moment, Kaufman’s objective comes into sharp focus, and we, the viewer, are left to ponder what we’ve just seen, and to consider whether we would, indeed, purge our minds of painful memories if given the chance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a relevant and weird and wonderful film with genuine heart and a thoughtful mind.

*Aeon Magazine, Aug. 1, 2016, Would You Purge Bad Memories From Your Brain If you Could by Lauren Gravitz. https://aeon.co/essays/would-you-purge-bad-memories-from-your-brain-if-you-could

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Emma by Jane Austen

emma_jane_austen_book_coverOn a long list of my favorite authors and beloved books, Jane Austen is always prominently featured. I think she’s hilarious and subversive. I’d even argue she’s a feminist. Other readers have obviously found Emma irresistible because the book has continuously been in print since 1816 (it helps, however, that it’s mandatory reading for most secondary schools in the English-speaking world).

My favorite Austen book is without-a-doubt Persuasion, even as I truly appreciate Northanger Abby. Nonetheless, this is a brief review of Emma, which I have just re-read, so while it’s fresh I thought to write a note encouraging readers to read this novel if they haven’t already.

Emma is a special work. Along with Pride and Prejudice it’s frequently adapted for film and television. Austen wrote this book shortly before she would die and by this time, she was at the height of her authorial skills. While the deceptively simple plot of Emma is similar to Austen’s other novels – a cycle of wrong-headedness, misunderstandings, remorse, penitence, and, finally, self-realization (inclusive of a romantic pairing of ‘equals’) – this work is richer in its twists-and-turns even as it maintains narrative control. Moreover, the themes of status and marriage are still relevant. As is the ‘moral’ of the book, which is that self-knowledge is elusive, and vanity a source of pain. What appeals to me most about Austen’s work in general is that they are all acute studies of humanity: “the happiest delineation of its varieties,” prompted by “the most thorough knowledge of human nature.” Her ability to create compelling and universal characters is awe-inspiring. Sly and subtle observations, humorous quips and asides, and we’re chuckling at the foibles and frustrations of humankind. Moreover, the omniscient narrator, which Austen had perfected by the time she wrote Emma, means the reader is privy to the innermost thoughts of our heroine as she finds her way through the narrative. And this heroine is complex and difficult. Austen famously wrote to a friend that in Emma she had created “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” It’s true. There are times when I find Emma’s character repugnant – snobbish, rude, obstinate, foolish and thoughtless – but then I find patience and kindness for her. She is young after all, and she doesn’t mean to be hurtful. In the end, I find my own best nature in my judgement of Emma, which parallels the heroine’s own journey, and makes for a richer literary experience.

 

 



Arrested Development

arrested-developmentThe upcoming Netflix series Ozark is on the horizon. I’m excited for it ‘cause Jason Bateman executive produced it, and is directing and starring in the series. An extra boon is that the talented and wry Laura Linney will co-star. I always liked Bateman, but he won my admiration through the TV series Arrested Development, so I thought to revisit this work of genius as we wait for Ozark to be released (2017).

Arrested Development is based on the radically dysfunctional family Bluth (fictional of course). It’s more subversive than Modern Family (btw, I like Modern Family very much). Each season of this brilliant sit-com was always in danger of cancellation despite numerous awards, including several Emmy’s. But this didn’t stop creator Mitchell Hurwitz and the rest of the team (inclusive of Ron Howard, who is its narrator) from defying the usual crowd-pleasing antics of the genre. It made them more satirical and absurd as though they had nothing to lose. The show flouts political correctness as it takes clever and humorous swipes at everything in contemporary society: the comfort of family; the general incompetence of businessmen, inclusive of the television and movie industries (the narrator critiques the art of narration during an episode); war, via “mama’s boy” Buster Bluth’s progression in the US army; and the flawed things we all do to get through our day. One of my favorite episodes includes the montaged intervention for alcoholic mother Lucille Bluth, which turns into “one of the Bluth family’s better parties.” There are running gags about self-absorption, repressed sexually, physical shame, fecklessness, and naiveté. At the center of it all is Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, whose dry, self-effacing wit and deadpan comic delivery, are ideally displayed here.

Watching Arrested Development is time well spent as we wait for Jason Bateman’s new series Ozark, which also promises to be based in the darkness of modern reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Fleabag

imagesFleabag is a darkly humorous sitcom created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Having originally appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a stage monologue, Amazon financed production of a six-part series, and the BBC picked it up for distribution. It’s about a woman who can’t quite cope with life in London after the recent death of her best friend. To “help” her along her terrible and squalid path, is her father, an ineffectual man who moved in with her awful – though very talented – godmother, just after her mother died. And her sister, a painfully uptight workaholic married to a slime bag.

Each character in Fleabag, including our heroine, is unpleasant, defeated and unhappy. Except for the dead best friend, Boo, whom we meet through regular flashbacks. This doesn’t sound like a good review, and I can only imagine how difficult pitching this idea to a TV exec would be, but Waller-Bridge has created something truly unforgettable here. The script is full of acerbic one-liners that will leave you breathless, and the characters are hypnotic. It’s perfectly cast, with especially stellar performances by Olivia Colman and Bill Paterson. But Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is magnetic in her savage self-loathing.

The first word that came to my head when I finished watching the series was “Wow.” Note the period, no exclamation mark. If I had to describe Fleabag in four words, I’d choose Harsh. Poignant. Surprising. Funny. Definitely worth watching, but not for the faint of heart.

 



The Lobster

MV5BNDQ1NDE5NzQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTM2NTE@._V1_UY1200_CR108,0,630,1200_AL_The film takes place in a dystopian world where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic match or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Ostensibly, as an animal, they are given a “second chance” to find love. Our hero, Colin Farrell’s desolate architect David, is dumped by his wife and immediately sent to the hotel in the company of his brother, who is now a border collie, having failed the 45 day time limit to find a match earlier.

There are several elements that make this film worth seeing: the Kafkaesque meditation on modern society’s preoccupation with coupling, as well as its increasing desensitization, is much appreciated, fresh and noble; there is dark humor; our hero’s reasoning behind his choice to be a lobster is interesting; and the ensemble cast is very good, inclusive of Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux. Moreover, a few of the incidents in the film will haunt me for a long time, which is arguably a good thing because the images were vivid enough to sear themselves into my cerebral cortex. However, there is absolutely no relief for the viewer in what is an exhaustingly morose take on humanity in some alternative reality, or in some not-so-distant future world.

 



The Nice Guys
The-Nice-Guys-poster-2

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.



Queen of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell

indexAn English friend of mine loaned me this “must read” book because she had so thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted me to share in the experience. Indeed, Queen of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell is fascinating because Bell is a strong female character and the Middle East remains relevant.

The book begins with Bell’s birth in 1868 to industrialists in the North of England. Outspoken and quick-witted, she became a historian, a linguist, an “Arabist,” an archaeologist, a mountaineer, an author, and a photographer. After many explorations into the Arabian deserts and a passion for Arabian culture, she became one of the architects for an independent kingdom in Iraq, helping to put its first king, Faisal, safely onto the throne in 1921.

Queen of the Desert is superbly researched and includes Bell’s own writing, both published and unpublished. However, while I admired Bell’s courage and persistence, I was not particularly intrigued by her personal story. Even as she was a woman in a man’s world who achieved things most women wouldn’t dream of, she was the daughter of an extremely privileged family with immense resources at her disposal. Instead, I found the information about the history and politics of the region captivating. The insight into the historical meddling from foreign countries, the social protocols of the desert, the diverse sects that abound throughout the Middle East, and their respective perceptions of the world as well as their feudal wars, are, in my opinion, the most engrossing aspects of this book. The information gained from reading Queen of the Desert also made me realize that the challenges that existed at the turn of the 20th century in the Middle East still exist today.