Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;”

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Have you ever wished that you had a restart button on you so that you could start your life all over again, to free yourself completely from the memories that make you who you are today? When we were born, we were like blank sheets of paper, and as we grow up, we fill up those blank sheets of paper with memories we create through our experiences. Before we even know it, these memories gradually and solidly define who we are, and if we mess it up, there is no turning back: our consciousness and memories cannot be started anew; the ink we wrote into our minds cannot be undone. We are forever doomed to be the persons we make ourselves to be.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a captivating and unconventional movie that explores the concept of memory and the role it plays in defining our identities. The movie makes the process of having our memories erased possible: what if all our painful memories can be easily removed from our consciousness with the help of a company called Lacuna Inc.? We all have those undesirable moments that we want to put aside, that we rather forget in order to move on with our lives, and having them sink into oblivion seems like a good dream come true. But is that really so? After all, they are an ingrained part of our identities and what we are today ultimately comes from the lessons we learned through trials and errors we made in the past.

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“You look at a baby, and it’s so pure, and so free, and so clean. And adults are like this mess of sadness and phobias.”

I have always been fascinated with movies written by Charlie Kaufman, notably Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), since his scripts are inhabited by characters that can be easily identified with and related to. They are by no means perfect; each of them has their own problems, but this tendency of reflecting real life emotions is what makes Kaufman movies so intriguing. Here the main character is Joel Barish, a quiet guy who has troubles making eye contact with women he does not know. I enjoy every monologue he makes to himself because they sound achingly familiar to me. Contrast to Joel, Clementine Kruczynski, his love interest, has troubles over controlling her emotional impulses. The other characters, including the working staffs at Lacuna Inc., though seemingly normal at first, are slowly revealed to have their own personal turmoils and a troubled past.

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Stripped away the concept of memory, the movie is at heart a meditation on romantic relationships, and this is where the movie has done its best. We are oftentimes attracted to the ones who possess the opposite personality, because it is somehow a mystery to us; it is something we desire to have because we do not own it ourselves. But this mutual attraction, while exciting and promising at first, will diminish over time as we learn about each other’s flaws, and soon enough it will be replaced with misunderstandings and insecurities due to a tremendous difference in lifestyles. As in the movie, Joel eventually finds Clementine’s expressiveness unbearable, while Clementine soon grows tired of Joel’s emotional coldness and calls him boring. However, in the end, despite knowing that they may have to go through all these doubts and potential arguments again in the future, they still decide to give their relationship another try anyway, because love is worth it.

With a unique mise en scène under the delicate direction of Michel Gondry and a simple yet lovely score by the talented Jon Brion, along with a wonderful script by Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a heartfelt and sincere portrayal of memory and romantic relationships. In one of the more iconic scenes of the movie, we see Joel and Clementine lying happily on water ice where there is a visible crack nearby, showing us just how fragile and vulnerable a relationship can really be.

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Punch-Drunk Love – A Feeling

I am not usually a big fan of the rom-com genre, but Punch-Drunk Love is one of those movies that I can always go back to and watch again whenever I am feeling down and out; it is like a friend who I can always confide in when I need to. Besides being an unusual romantic comedy, the movie also touches the theme of chance and coincidence, a theme Paul Thomas Anderson has been continually explored in his previous movies.

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Here, Adam Sandlers plays his arguably best role to date as Barry Egan, a childlike, bad-tempered and incredibly lonely human being. He is someone who cannot quite fit in the fast-paced world around him due to a lack of social skills and his refusal to grow up. Once in a while we find ourselves laughing at Barry’s clumsiness and childish behaviors, and we immediately feel bad for him afterwards. But beneath the somewhat weird personality and his blue suit is a damaged heart that is yearning for love and crying silently throughout the movie. Everything changes when he meets Lena, an equally lonely woman who loves every quirk in Barry and sees him for who he is; she arrives just in time to save him from his trapped mind. Suddenly Barry’s world is turned upside down, as for the first time in his life he gets a taste of love. Barry has discovered a way out of his isolation in the most unlikely of places.

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I love every little detail of this movie, from the purposeful use of colors, the lighting, the contrast between bright and darker tones, and the seemingly random symbolism put throughout the movie. Part of it feels like a silent movie, the other makes me think of a musical. I also love how Paul Thomas Anderson made Punch-Drunk Love almost like a silent movie with minimal usage of dialogues, to show us just how lonely the main character is, and we can feel the intimacy between Barry and Lena just by the way they look at each other. We never hear any of them say the three words “I love you”, which tend to be overused in most romantic movies to the point of losing their meaning, yet we know that they are absolutely in love. I adore the quirkiness of this movie just as much as I adore the flaws and humanness of its characters.

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Another highlight of the movie is the wonderful score composed by Jon Brion; it is beautiful in its own way and works perfectly well in showing audiences Barry’s psychological states. The main theme is simple but memorable; it flows effortlessly into my heart. I admire the score so much I even bought the soundtrack CD despite having already own a DVD of the movie. Along with the exquisite cinematography and the dazzling hallucinogenic scene, Brion’s score helps create a feeling that is best described as intoxicating or punch-drunk.

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Punch-Drunk Love is certainly not for everyone. Not everyone is going to embrace all the flaws and imperfections of humanity like Anderson did. In Anderson’s eyes, every human beings, no matter how damaged they are, still deserve love. In this movie, love is presented in its purest form, an unconditional love. Some may argue that thing like this rarely happens in real life, and they are not completely wrong: we live in a world where sometimes people are so busy with goals and daily routines that we become devoid of love; most of us expect our partner to have certain standards, so how can we be sure it is the person that we love, not the standards we ask from them? Ultimately, Punch-Drunk Love is just a movie, and as someone has put it, a film is 24 lies per second in the service of truth. But it is such a beautiful movie, a little gift from Anderson for the unloved, full of hearts and warmth radiating from its colorful images, a movie which is here to remind us that sometimes all we really need is love.

Memorable line (Lena): “I just wanted you to know, wherever you’re going or whatever you’re doing right now, I want you to know that I wanted to kiss you just then.”

KD

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