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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Spotlight

Spotlight movie posterA small group of journalists from The Boston Globe reveal the Catholic Church’s role in systematically covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and John Slattery play the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. Through them, Director Tom McCarthy demonstrates (again) his incredibly understated ‘touch’ with actors. This ensemble cast is a model of low-key greatness – as is the film itself. There are no ghoulish rape flashbacks or sensationalistic cutaways to a menacing clerical conspiracy behind closed doors. There is just the absolute confidence that the audience will be enthralled as the reporters quietly and quickly go through journalistic procedures, slowly and steadily gathering information, and painstakingly corroborating leads and hunches. Like so many films absorbed with the minutia of daily journalism, Spotlight is a terrifically nerdy process movie.

What I especially liked about this film is its incredibly perceptive sense of how inextricably the Church is woven into the fabric of Boston life. The Church concealed its corruption for so long by applying pressure to the city’s legal, political, and journalistic institutions. As Spotlight sifts through the appalling pile of evidence to reveal the Church’s horrific cycles of abuse and concealment, we understand that the most galling crime is that it has used its uniquely privileged position in society to exploit its victims (whom they are meant to serve). We also understand that many of us are complicit in allowing this type of oppression to flourish because we don’t do anything about it when we see it. Jamey Sheridan and Paul Guilfoyle are two Church-connected friends who try to convince editor Robinson (Keaton) not to publish, and we recognize these characters immediately — they are the members of our decent yet compromised humanity, the proverbial good men who do nothing and therefore allow evil to grow and to thrive.

Sobering, yes, but a very good film with a strong narrative and a fine cast.

 



The Kids Are All Right

A comedy drama: teenage siblings Joni and Laser live with their two mothers, Nic and Jules, lesbian life partners who both used the same sperm donor to have them. Laser convinces Joni to contact the donor, she does, and he bonds with the teens. Hard-working Nic is wary of the donor, while free-spirited Jules creates a tentative rapport with him and agrees to landscape his garden.

Annette Bening (American Beauty) and Julianne Moore (Children of Men) play Nic and Jules and are completely convincing as a couple. Child-rearing and two decades of marriage has put a strain on their relationship, which is only exacerbated when the sperm donor, Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, (Shutter Island) enters the picture. The kids are well-adjusted and okay with the inevitability of change, signalled by the entry of Paul, but the adults have a harder time coping.

Astutely directed (Lisa Cholodenko, High Art), this is a keenly observed portrait of marriage tested, and of human behaviour in the face of change. A taut, modern, relevant and funny film whose characters and their actions are utterly relatable.