Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This will be a post of confessions.

Confession #1: I haven't blogged a single damn thing for far too long. I wish I could say that it's because I've been too busy, but honestly, I was only really busy while I was performing in January-February and then back in September-October.

Confession #2: I can really only do this sort of thing on a deadline. If I see something that I feel REALLY compelled to write about, then I have to do it right away or it will never get done, but that rarely happens with something that would be appropriate for this particular forum...

Confession #3: ...which is why I am able to participate in Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series whenever it's happening. There's an assignment and a deadline. It's just like being in college again! Only with a WAY cooler professor.

Confession #4: I haven't seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind since the first time I saw it in 2004. I haven't watched it for several reasons. Because I wanted to preserve the memory of that first, magical viewing. Because I was dreadfully afraid that it would not have the same impact on me on another viewing. Because I was dreadfully afraid that it WOULD have the same impact on me on another viewing. Because it so burned itself into my psyche upon that first viewing that I actually haven't needed to watch my DVD copy in order to watch it again. It's one of very few films that I constantly carry around in my memory, completely intact.

Confession #5: I wasn't going to watch Eternal Sunshine again for this because I already knew the shot I would choose.

Confession #6: Because I hadn't seen the film in ten years, I figured I owed it to Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, and cinematographer Ellen Kuras to watch it again before choosing.

Confession #7: This was going to be my pick for Best Shot

Confession #8: This is my actual pick for Best Shot

Confession #9: Apparently, I didn't remember Eternal Sunshine quite as well as I thought I did. Some things actually hit me harder this time around (the way Carrey whispers "This is the last time I saw you"). Some performances struck me as far slyer than I originally gave them credit for (just how much does Mark Ruffalo know about Dunst and Wilkinson's relationship?). And Kate Winslet was even more wondrous, partially because on this viewing I realized that Clementine is not nearly as clearly-drawn in the script as she is in Winslet's performance. HOW did she lose the Oscar for this?!? And while I remembered Jon Brion's score almost note for note, I had gone so long without associating it with these images that it completely stunned me how perfect (and oftentimes counterintuitive) it was. The sound in general, actually, was far more effective than I remember.

Confession #10: As someone who has taken the train to work from CT to NYC for the past six and a half years while living with someone, Joel's entire opening monologue struck me in a way that I was not prepared for. So much so, that I saw the film almost completely differently this time around. Joel and Clementine's relationship suddenly meant so much more - I understood it on a level I definitely do NOT recall from the first time around (when I was still in college). Commuting to work does weird things to you - you become a slave to not just your work schedule, but to the train timetables. It saps most (if not all) of your energy - you don't want to go out in the city because you just want to get home, and you don't want to go out at home because you just spent all day "out". Having someone to come home to is such a wonderful thing, but commuting puts a weird strain on relationships - you simultaneously want to spend more and less time with your partner because time alone becomes more precious of a commodity. Your life feels more part of a machine that keeps grinding you down than if you were driving to work (especially for a short distance), and free time is something that suddenly only becomes available to you on weekends - if it isn't completely taken up by errands. And if your partner doesn't commute - they just don't get what it feels like, the toll it takes on you. So, yeah, Eternal Sunshine hit me right where I live.

Confession #11: I had completely forgotten about the shot I ended up choosing, but MAN it hit me like a ton of bricks on this viewing. The one I had thought I was going to pick still made me gasp (it just comes out of nowhere, so otherworldly), but this one, which comes almost immediately after, wrecked me. Everyone knows and loves the beautiful first shot of Clem and Joel on the ice (next to the gigantic crack - the one that was on all the posters and DVD covers), and this shot is designed to recall it - and actually does a great job of recontextualizing that first shot. In the first one, Clementine and Joel are pretty happy. The crack in the ice represents the ugly, imperfect parts of their past (forgotten) relationship. In this shot, Clem is gone, and so is the crack. The ice is perfect. Joel should be happy - this is what he wanted - but he's not. Life should be perfect without the pain - and it may look that way - but it's not. In trying to protect ourselves by erasing or avoiding emotional scars, we end up becoming our own worst enemies. There's a handful of great quotes in Eternal Sunshine, but for me the one that best sums it up goes unsaid: 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Confession #12: As a commuter, I was tempted to choose the shot where people keep vanishing from Grand Central Terminal as the Best Shot. OH how often I've wanted that to happen as I'm running to catch the train home!

Confession #13: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind hasn't changed at all in the ten years since I first saw it, but I have. I thought I remembered it perfectly, and maybe I did, but the emotions I experienced during this viewing were completely different than what I remember from the first viewing. I reacted to different scenes, and some scenes hit me in different ways. That's the funny thing about memory. While what happened is always the same, they way you remember it changes over time. And I love that this film about memories - how they affect us, and how we can affect them - proves to be a perfect example of that.