Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Welcome to Cinema Pop! I'm afraid I'm not particularly good at introductions, so I'll let Clementine do the honors.

As far as first blog posts go, I don't know if I can think of anything more fitting than Eternal Sunshine. It's the kind of movie that just about everyone seems to have a personal connection to, some story that goes along with their first time seeing it, or the times they put it on and cried after a breakup. I remember watching it for the first time when it aired on HBO--intrigued by the promise of Marianne Dashwood with blue hair, an Oscar nomination, and an American accent.

I was probably 12, and I fell in love with it.

I stole the DVD from the public library, and I would sneak it up to my room at night with my portable DVD player (remember those?) and stay up at night watching it. I didn't want to tell anyone about it. It was too personal. I had fallen in love with many many many movies before, and I've fallen in love with just as many since, but Eternal Sunshine was unique. It was the film time I fell in love with a movie and recognized it as a movie, not just a story unfolding before my eyes. I was in love with Clementine and Joel like everyone else, but I was also in love with the way the pieces got put together, with unwrapping the movie moment by moment. I've seen Eternal Sunshine dozens of times, most of them probably in that first year.

I worried a bit how it would play now for me after years away from it, if I would cringe and think Clementine was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl like Jezebel and Buzzfeed say, or if Joel would strike me now as a clich├ęd mopey white guy--but I needn't have troubled myself. It hasn't aged a day.

As for the best shot, it's an embarrassment of riches from Gondry and the inexplicably underemployed cinematographer Ellen Kuras. Picking one seems like a crime. So I made a little highlight reel.

KATE. Kate Kate Kate Kate Kate Kate Kate. Someone please break her out of her housewife rut so she can get back to giving me moments like this? Creepy Patrick offers her Joel's gift, and in the span of about fifteen seconds Kate offers up basically a miniature aria of emotion, communicating Clementine's shock, pleasure, confusion, spontaneity, and distrust in the tiniest flickers of her face. 

That last moment is the face I make when I think about how Best Actress 2004 went down. 

Two Joels, one Clem. Her face is the anchor of the frame as we see Joel split between past and present, memory and forgetting, red and green. And what a relief it is to look at a complementary color scheme that isn't orange and teal!

Lol at those sparkly gloves. I feel like this rarely gets talked about, but the costuming in this movie was on point. See also:

Maybe my favorite scene in the film, so funny, but I love that even before Clementine talks about the outfit, you just know she's going to love it. It's a perfect echo for the jewelry scene with Patrick--even in his memory Joel gets her. One of my favorite things about Eternal Sunshine this go around was how much the film respects Clementine's personhood--you're always aware that the woman Joel is talking to a figment of his imagination. It's not taken for granted that he understands Clementine. The movie earns its romanticism in these moments. 

And because this is HMWYBS, I love the framing throughout this scene too. Sure, it's formally rigorous with all the forced perspective, but it's frisky and fun, never self-conscious. Even better--the formalism IS the joke. Gondry sets your eyes up against your brain, and the disconnect between what we know is reality and the absurd impossibility of what we're seeing is what makes the scene.

I also didn't appreciate this moment nearly as much growing up but lol Kiki.

Crushed it.

But if I absolutely had to lay down the law and pick one shot, it would be this:

Guts me every time, and it all comes down to the way Gondry manipulates form.

We start fully immersed in the memory back at Barnes And Noble. Full shelves, bright color. 

As they talk, the backgrounds start to wipe away as they have in several other scenes throughout the film, but it happens slowly, book by book, almost imperceptibly as Clem and Joel first act out and then reflect on the start of their relationship. He promises that next time it'll be different.

But look at her. We've seen this look on her before. Same hair, same makeup. She's going to use the same lines and they'll play out the same seductions. We know the end is inevitable, even as they deny it. The books behind them are all blank. She kisses his nose. And then she's gone.

This time when Clementine goes all the color leaves with her. What was her half of the frame is now empty, and Joel stares into the void where she used to be. It's the most bittersweet shot in this already bittersweet film--the moment we know for sure that Joel's not going to get away with it. He's losing her. It's never going to work between them.

Gondry relies on the power of this moment for that perfect ending. It's the same framing, the same speech, the same question, the same conclusion even. But this time there's no denial. No one disappears. It might not be different. That's ok.