Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – Repeat Repeat Repeat

Thoughts On: Eternal Sunshine

To erase the memory of a broken relationship, Joel attempts to physically extract them from his mind.

Eternal Sunshine

This is a great film, there’s so many things I love about it, but, the more and more I watch this film there’s a niggling imperfection that becomes of greater apparency. Imperfections aren’t the end of the world though. In fact, it’s this film’s imperfection that has me return to it time and time again, that has me writing this essay. So, the imperfection at hand is something inherent to practically all Kaufman’s films that I’ve seen.

        

All of these films have their quirks, and they have their serious, pretentious and absurd sides but also a deep pessimism. I say pessimism, but what I mean is a quality that can easily come off as nothing but moaning. I mean not to criticise or speak down on Kaufman and his films here – but this should become apparent soon. This ‘nothing but moaning’ is clearest in Synechdoche New York and Anomalisa. They’re about deeply broken individuals who face an allusive inner turmoil – an aspect of character that is irredeemable and inevitably self-destructive. It’s hearing Kaufman’s lecture at the BAFTAs about time and how it must be spent, about wounds, undefined pain, that you can understand why his films are like this. He says it best by implying that it is undefined pain that wants to live that is the reason and drive behind personal art. It’s hearing this that it becomes apparent that Kaufman’s films are quite personal, that they are imbued if not with his own character, but with his own thoughts and demeanour. This is self-evident in the clear line through Kaufman’s films, the fact that his style and tone on the page may break through the screen even when he’s not directing. But, what this all funnels back into is pessimism. Almost all of Kaufman’s characters are broken individuals, they all fit into narratives without true happy endings. It’s Kaufman’s lamenting and then lack of resolution that makes his films feel like ‘nothing but moaning’. In truth, this reflects more about me than it does his films. It reflects my need for resolution, to pragmatically filter problems, ambiguity and pain into lessons or solutions (kinda why I write essays explaining movies). So, in my saying ‘nothing but moaning’ I mean to ask: where is the solution?

As of now, I’ve touched on the intangible link between Kaufman’s films and his overall style – I haven’t yet got specific. The best film to do this with is probably what seems like his most optimistic – Eternal Sunshine. To do this we have to start with the end and with spoilers. This is the final and most telling detail of this film that says everything the narrative attempts.

As the film fades out we watch Joel and Clementine run away from us, playing in the snow. This short segment is repeated and seems like a nice nod to their relationship that they lost and found again, to the fact that we watched history repeat itself. It’s seeing the film like this that you can recognise that it’s about second chances, about trying again, about people being forever bound at the hip, inevitably drawn to one another. However, as you can see, this shot of them running away is repeated 3 times. If the first repetition is a nod to what has happened in the film (Joel and Clementine losing and finding one another) then the third one must imply that this will all happen again. Furthermore, for the film to fade to white over this implies a muted, naive and rather bleak end – that Joel and Clementine will continue to do this all of their lives. What does this imply about the characters? It implies that they are broken inside, that they don’t understand their personal pain, that they see their time as something that must be spent – not really something that they want to spend. The overall narrative then becomes a commentary on love, about love as something that peters out, that detensifies. Our broken, rather childish and impulsive characters do not seem to comprehend this – let alone wish to accept it. They want the beginnings of their relationship over and over again as it was the only time in which they worked, the only time in which they could bear one another. That, if you can’t feel it, is Kaufman’s pessimism.

The film I can’t help but compare this to is (500) Days Of Summer.

Both Tom and Joel are romantics, just like Clementine and Summer are impulsive. Together, these couples turn their essential traits into devastating weaknesses. With Tom and Joel their romanticism becomes an incessant need for affection, one that blinds them to sense and the ability to manage a relationship. With Clementine and Summer, their impulsiveness becomes a seemingly selfish inability to commit or sacrifice as to manage a relationship. Both 500 Days and Eternal Sunshine are then quite obviously about romance and a cycle of need and want, of emotional ups and downs. However, Tom and Summer do not end up together. This is because they are a clear mismatch, that they become people they themselves do not like when they are together. Despite being of very similar character to Tom and Summer, Joel and Clementine end up together. The two films’ respective commentary on romance and love then come down to their titles. 500 Days has Eternal Sunshine’s core idea of broken characters, but has their negative effect on one another be finite – 500 days long. The end implication is that Tom may still be a romantic, ready to move onto Autumn, a relationship that may not last, but he has nonetheless grown as a person. Whilst there is a cycle of romance in 500 Days, it’s segmented in bettering spheres of 16(ish) months. The sunshine of new romance between Joel and Clementine however must be Eternal. Yeesh, I know. Sounds like someone is setting themself up to fail, right? This is what the end fade and repetition imply, leaving characters with no growing room at all. Memory and time are their enemy that must be wiped out and ignored. It’s here where the root of ‘nothing but moaning’ and my question of where is the solution? comes in. I ask this because 500 Days is pessimistic in a realistic enough way. It sees Tom as foolishly romantic, but young and hopefully capable of learning. Eternal Sunshine has pessimism, has Joel and Clementine young, stupid and impulsive, but then gives them a means of staying that way. Why?

It’s this why? that transforms the film. Why is this film so pessimistic? Is Kaufman just moaning? Well, I think what’s wrong with this film and narrative is that it’s science fiction. It’s the machine that can extract memory that enables Joel and Clementine to stay young, stupid and impulsive. So, in a reality that doesn’t yet have these machines, this enabling of a destructive cycle cannot happen, it cannot be capitalised on. Eternal Sunshine then becomes Terminator meets 500 Days Of Summer – it’s a cautionary tail without a happy ending. Kaufman seems to be telling us that pain is good and that painkillers only allow you to feel momentarily comfortable in perpetualised, numbed agony.

 

 

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The Birds – Marriage And How To Do It?

Quick Thoughts: The Birds

Melanie Daniels follows romance to a small beach town about to be attacked by huge flocks of birds.

The Birds

This is not a good film. It most definitely hasn’t aged that well, but, that doesn’t really matter. It was crap to begin with. My primary argument on this is that it’s utter nonsense, moreover, the acting is mediocre, characterisation flat, plot more than disinteresting and the logic… wow… the logic. But, most of all, this film is in no way horrifying – not to me. I don’t want to rip into this film though for it does have some redeeming qualities. Its bat-shit-crazy narrative and insane character motivations (to run into flocks of somehow killer birds) is driven by a singular metaphor. The birds are in fact Hitchcock’s way of presenting the social atmosphere of the town and relationships between characters. The birds of course start as a humorous euphemism with the love birds, but become violent when the plot moves into Bodega Bay. It’s here where sea gulls, crows and sparrows attack – even the chickens are a bit off. This all comes down to the relationship between Melanie and Mitch. Mitch seems to be some kind of player who has mummy and daddy issues. This should be ringing many alarm bells – especially if you’ve read my post on Psycho. (Links in the end). Hitchcock uses birds in the same way he does with Norman and Marion in that they represent a possible relationship. In Psycho the relationships in question are between Norman and women as well as Marion and Sam. With The Birds it’s between Mitch, his family and Melanie. In short, Mitch’s family are in a slight upheaval with his father having died, leaving his mother needing a trustworthy son and his sister a role model. The women he then chooses to bring around have a huge effect on his family’s dynamic. Moreover, the conflict between Melanie and Mitch’s family permeates throughout the whole town – it being small and gossip being capable of devastating the family. This results in the birds attacking – an expression of said hostility. You see this clearly with every scene revealing character, such as Mitch’s and Melanie’s back stories, proceeding an attack. Moreover, every time their relationship progresses, the birds grow violent. This ultimately plunges the town into chaos and puts many in danger. This somewhat abbreviated explanation of what the birds are then allows you to recognise the question posed to both Mitch and Melanie who are at fault (metaphorically) for the bird attacks. The question posed to them is whether they want to stick around town and make this film a horror/tragedy much like Romeo And Juliet meets Psycho (but with birds replacing knives) or leave for the sake of preserving a healthy family circle. And it’s with the end of the film that all the characters learn to trust and respect one another, so they can leave the town with the ex-girlfriends and painful history to start again.

It’s by comparing Psycho to The Birds that you get a nice juxtaposition of how to overcome memory and convoluted social ties to move forward in life – not get stuck.

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Jason Bourne – Meh

Thoughts On: Jason Bourne

Heather Lee, a decade after he has walked away from the CIA, tries to draw the infamous Jason Bourne back into the agency and into action.

Jason Bourne

I’ll start out simple. This is not a great film, it’a not really a good one either. In short, it’s not really worth your time, but, if you must see it… well, it’s probably not the end of the world. Overall, Jason Bourne is a mediocre picture. Now, to delve a little deeper, the third act of this movie is not that bad. It hits the top end of the mediocre range – it’s almost dumb fun, good entertainment. But, the first act? Jesus… The first act was painfully boring to watch. I was fidgeting constantly in my seat, thinking about almost anything apart from the movie. This lasts pretty deep into second act. However, the film picks up just a little and allows you to sink in after the halfway mark. Without getting into spoilers I can safely tell you that this film doesn’t really work on a technical level. As a technical piece of writing, this is a dud – a very dull script. What makes action films really resonate is character. Character is an illusive term in cinema. It doesn’t always mean real, fleshed out characters, in other words. I would in fact argue that real people aren’t really want we want to see on the big screens. Sure, we want aspects of realism, but in the end, and especially with action movies, we need a bit of extravagance – say for instance an amazing spy, fighter, operative and so on – not really your average person, let alone a realistic one considering the way real fist, gun, and weapons based conflicts function (definitely not like the movies portray). But, to say this film, this script is missing character I’m not really talking about Jason Bourne, acting or dialogue. It’s the plot that lacks character. If you look at Bourne Identity the character of the plot, the element of the story that feeds characterisation, is the relationship between Jason and Marie. This fills the second act with emotional conflicts as well as physical ones which allows the film to slow down and focus. However, there are no real relationships in this film. And this, as a result, means there’s very little character. I mean, even Chuck had Wilson.

What’s relevant about this is that it proves that relationships don’t have to be romantic to give character – and this film could have taken that stance. There’s an almost relationship, bond or camaraderie between Jason and Heather (the agent chasing him down) in this movie. But, it falls flat. And it’s because of this that the second act of the movie is incredibly lacking, and also why the film is no more than a handful of unsuspenseful tactical missions. To hold onto this idea of handfuls of tactical missions, to build a movie off this premise is an achievable feat. Just look at the recent Mission Impossible.

This is nothing more than a conglomeration of escalating action scenes. But, it works. It works firstly because there are good characters here, but also because there is that escalation. The set pieces get bigger and better. This doesn’t happen with Bourne. It is very low key, quite uninteresting until the end where it decides to explode with a whole lot of nonsensical physics concerning an armoured police car. But, if I’m honest, it’s not really character that brings this film down the most, it’s the action. Nothing exciting happens in this movie. The Bourne series holds some of the best fight and chase scenes ever. This is irrefutable. And that’s kind of what you want to pick up on going into this film. But, to start off with, the fights scenes are all too quick, or all to meaningless. There’s only one fight in this film that kind of had me invested in it. This is because there’s nothing different, nothing dangerous, nothing that catches you in the gut and screams: DID YOU SEE THAT SHIT!?!?!? That’s what we get in The Bourne Ultimatum. You know it’s coming…

… there’s NONE of this is Jason Bourne. There’s no fight that is on this level technically or imaginatively in this film at all. (I mean, come one, look at the way he pounds a guy with a fucking book). What’s worse is there’s nothing like this in the film on director’s level either. And this is probably the most annoying thing about the film – the style. What you just saw in the clip was handheld, quite hectic, but riveting nonetheless. You pretty much always know what’s going on despite many cuts, lots of movement, even mistakes, and overly close shots. This is a great style of shooting when done right. It’s attempted in Jason Bourne, but it sucks. It actually kills the movie as a whole, not just in the actions scenes. In the actions scenes there is very little to see first of all because they’re either so quick or shot with horrific lighting (the end fight especially), but more than this the direction is off. If you pay attention to the montage of the Bourne vs Desh fight you see a great representation of how to put the audience in the scene whilst having the camera act cinematic. By acting cinematic, I mean we see things from a non-point-of-view state. For example, the inserts of Jason’s boots as he runs. These kind of shots are used to ensure emotional direction as well as give you general spacial awareness. Moreover, the action in the above scene is juxtaposed with tension. Jason runs as Nicky searches. This means that the camera movement is slower, more controlled, with her, but a little more energised with Jason. This all gives the editor motion based pacing to work with the cuts. To clarify, you can add speed to a scene with many cuts made in editing. What you can’t really edit is the way a camera pans or jerks, or even captures action independent of the cut. In Jason Bourne the camera is simply always doing too much. In action scenes this results in you not seeing what you want to – and the editor can’t really fix this. In non-action scenes, however, this style leaves you wondering what the director wants to achieve and also stops you from getting into things. This is what’s so wrong with the first act. There’s so much action implied with camera movement about the actual narrative action. This is what agitates the mind and in turn the person in their seat. They only feel bored because they’re essentially being lied to. With erratic, overly energised camera movement, they’re being told you should be excited, but that’s not what the screen on plot tells them.

It’s then plot, direction, fight choreography and the script, that are all substandard, that have this movie fall flat and, in the end, be quite boring. Having said all of that, there are aspects of this film I quite liked, but were ultimately bogged down mainly by the style of direction. This is a film with a message – the key aspect of interest about it. I won’t go into this just yet though because it’ll involve spoilers. Instead, it must be said that the message and the slight pick up in action and excitement in the third act has this film end on its highest point. The end fight scene has a slight whiff of the brilliant Bourne v Desh one. You see this in the way sound is sucked away and isolated with singular poignant effects (punches primarily) moreover, there’s some ingenuity, there’s technical craft in the choreography of the last fight – and it’s something more or less believable. It’s nothing awe inspiring though. There are no major moments of: OH SHIT!! Neither are there many moments where you’re sitting on the edge of your seat. You are, however, made to feel the movement of the scene and are allowed to sink in to it. But, as said, the lighting here sucks. You can see next to nothing – which is really unfortunate. There’s also a chase scene proceeding this fight and it’s utterly ridiculous, but has a few ‘wow-ish’ moments where you’re made to feel weightless or on the verge of an: OH SHIT! But, because of the nonsense that it is, you can’t really invest yourself that much.

It’s now that I’ll movie into…

**SPOILERS**

 

… from this point on, if you haven’t seen the film and want to, it’s probably best you jump to the end.

Staying with what is ridiculous about the chase scene, it’s all about the armoured police car driven by Vincent Cassel’s character. For some reason, it can storm through dozens, no exaggeration, dozens of stationary cars without even slowing down. Later on Jason drives his car off a ledge of sorts, torpedoing the motherfucker into the side of Cassel’s truck. And this is no mini, it’s a heavy Mustang. (I could be wrong on the type of car, but it’s a big loud one). This car plows into the SWAT truck and somehow get’s stuck on the roof. STUCK ON THE ROOF!?!?! This makes no sense! It doesn’t flip the car over, it doesn’t take it off two wheels, it doesn’t cave in the  roof, break the windshield, even phase Cassel’s character. Nothing! It sits on the roof and is slammed into a low lying balcony thing of a casino. Now, this kind of nonsense is fine if you’re in a good mood and it suits the tone of the movie:

    

But, the whole reason for the directorial style of this film with the handheld cam, mistakes and so on is verisimilitude – it’s realism. It helps suck you into the film, convincing you you are seeing it, in part, from a human view – as if you’re there. So, the nonsense in the end here is kind of a slap in the face. However, there are many tropes and short cuts of the action genre that seep in throughout the film. Overall, it’s not incredibly realistic, but the end… yeah, too far.

Ok, so what has me second guessing this movie, wondering if I maybe need to see it again or not be so harsh, is the end message. There’s some serious questioning of public safety and individual rights throughout this film. In fact, the Bourne series is the best vessel for this idea. It’s Jason who deals with governmental corruption whilst being faced with the idea of his country, of doing things for a greater purpose than himself, that really got thinking that maybe I should try to pay closer attention. The same thing happened to me with Star Trek Beyond. There were hints of a deeper message within, and because I enjoyed the movie, I decided to delve into them. I don’t really care to do this as much with this film as, despite message being pretty solid, it’s not capitalised on well enough in respect to this largely disinteresting narrative. So, to give a quick overview of this message, it’s all about Jason being a patriot in face of a corrupt government – as represented by Tommy Lee Jones as Dewy. Jones’ character here is, in his attitude and facade, almost a reprisal of the sheriff he played in No Country For Old Men. And on paper, this is the only good thing about his character – it’s acted fine though, it’s just not great on the page. So, against the corrupt government, with hundreds of dangerous files, Jason is given the opportunity to leak them. In fact, there’s many mentions of Snowden throughout the film, leaving you to question whether he and the idea of leaking is right or wrong, whether the evidence of corruption is best simply handed to the public with simultaneous risk to the country as a whole being hung in the balance. What’s more than this is that we have an Aaron Kallor who acts as a Steve Jobs type at the head of his company that is basically Apple. This company is forced to give out personal information on their billion plus users. This is a reference to stories over the past few years with Google and Apple being asked to put forward personal information by governments. This sets up a clear idea of freedom with Kallor and of public safety at any cost (even corruption and clear wrongs) with Dewey. However, connected to Dewey would of course be Heather, who acts as the mediating force by which Bourne must interact with. He has to decide whether he cares for personal freedoms of all, or public safety with these files.

The end message with this is all about individuality. And that’s what interesting about the film. Jason Bourne is an archetypal individualist. He fights for himself, in defiance of an agency. He does this in the film by fighting his antithetical character – Cassel, who works for the agency, but is much like him. Keeping this is mind, it’s during the ending where Heather tells Jason that she’s on his side, but then goes behind his back to her boss and says she’ll take him out if she must, that it becomes clear that she’s a bit of a whore. She’ll do and say whatever she must just to get ahead in the agency. Jason walks away from her and everything else because of this. He does what he must for himself (killing Cassel’s character and reading the files) so he can, for now, stay away. He denies the debate at hand by doing this, he walks away from the files having found out what he alone wanted. The lasting message of the film then seems to be that the individual should both be thankful for their name, the personal sovereignty that they possess, and not be afraid to have the world know of that, but that they should also be able to fight for themselves – to have the know-how or personal strength to keep away from stupidity. There’s more to be explored with this idea, but, in the end, I’ll leave it to you to ponder on.

**SPOILERS OVER**

 

Overall, this just isn’t that important of a film. I wouldn’t really recommend seeing it in the cinema, maybe catch it when it comes on T.V. If and when you do see this film, go in with two ideas: this is not the Bourne movie it wants to be and it’s not really Jason Bourne’s film either – despite the title. To me, Heather Lee was the lead here. And with the ending given, there’s an implementation that there’s more to come from both this franchise and her. What we have to then hope doesn’t happen is that this becomes a superhero franchise or a Mission Impossible meets Fast and Furious. But, alas, in the end we’ll have to see.

 

 

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