Friday, May 8, 2015

Birthday Take: Michel Gondry in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

Left to right: Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Michel Gondry
Born: May 8, 1963 (52 years old)
Nomination: Best Original Screenplay - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (won)

The Take

There are very few inventive film directors working in a mainstream capacity today as that of Michel Gondry. While his stature hasn't been as big in recent years, it is quite possible that his work has remained some of the most strikingly beautiful and abstract work of the past 15 years. He is a director who takes chances and makes films like The Science of Sleep, which incorporates many styles into a final blended production of mind altering images. He even made a documentary called Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?, which was entirely animated. While he has fallen into an acquired taste mold, he remains just as daunting as ever.

Still, he is unlikely to ever top the masterful work that he did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While it is only loosely resembling a sci-fi film, it manages to combine everything that makes Gondry so excellent into a package that focuses on a feeling that most of the audience has had: romance. Through the story of a man opting into a surgery of sorts to remove memories of his ex-girlfriend, the story enters into a mind that is crumbling, choosing to focus on the way that moments shift as he tries to hold onto them, eventually forgetting why he opted into this process in the first place. It is a torturous experience and one that seems universal in every respects.

It could be that there were surprisingly effective performances by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey that anchored the film. It could be that even in the dark and conflicting nature of it all, there was an occasional bounce into something happier and more unnerving. It was a study of love that didn't end with convenience, but ended up creating a loop that answered the questions to love without actually saying much. The film is a visually impressive film that is unlike any other psychological experimental films out there. There are still moments that don't make sense visually or technically, but add so much emphasis to the film that it doesn't seem to matter. Gondry has created something wholly satisfying.

It could also be that Gondry had teamed up with Charlie Kaufman, who remains one of the more perplexing writings with a filmography that includes Being John Malkovich and Synechdoche, New York. If anything, the film works because it is a clashing of a visual mastermind and a narrative mastermind in ways that helped to better understand cinema's potential. It is a reason that the film continues to remain so relevant and powerful over 10 years later. The characters feel organic despite the continuous dives into insane and abstract moments that don't intend to make entire sense. It captures insecurity unlike any other film on a mainstream platform. For that alone, the film is rather exceptional.

Maybe Gondry will never make something as accepted as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That is to be expected, as he hasn't really done much that is that accessible. While his latest Blue Indigo has all of the visual wonderment of his best, it isn't necessarily an easy story to digest. It is conflicting and maybe tonally off. However, he is an artist who challenges the medium and when he's on, he makes something far more sublime than the average filmmaker. The only hope is that he is able to do it again sometime soon.

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