Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just because

I threw in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night. Just because.

And "just because" has become an increasingly rare reason for me to watch a movie these days.

As both a working critic and a prolific blogger, I've always got "good reasons" to watch the movies I watch. I watch them because I'm reviewing them. I watch them because they're helping me review a different movie. I watch them because I'm working on some crazy project, like ranking my top 82 films released between 2005 and 2008. I watch them because my wife rented them from Netflix. Even "because I've never seen it before" is a purpose-driven reason to watch a movie.

But sometimes it's nice to watch a movie just because. Just because you own it. Just because you love it and haven't seen it in awhile. Just because it's a Wednesday night.

All three of these reasons applied when I watched Eternal Sunshine. It wasn't a premeditated viewing -- it just happened. Okay, I had been thinking about it all day, but it wasn't something I knew I was going to do yesterday. And with the way we order our rental queues and anticipate theatrical release dates, a movie I didn't know I was going to watch yesterday counts as unpremeditated for me.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was my fifth favorite movie of the 2000s, as ranked here, but I hadn't seen it since 2005 or 2006. (Truth be told, that was my purpose-driven reason to watch it, to determine where it ranked. But I didn't end up watching it back in January, when I was finalizing those rankings.) And I don't know what it was, but some buried instinct drove me to set aside my normally aggressive viewing schedule of purpose-driven movies, in order to watch it. So last night I did.

And since I don't have anything further to say, other than the implied message that we should all take the time to revisit movies "just because," I thought I'd comment on a few newly detected observations from my most recent viewing:

1) There was a funny moment early on when I wanted to check if a gaffe had been committed in the dialogue. Joel (Jim Carrey) is just learning from his friends (played by Jane Adams and David Cross) that Clementine (Kate Winslet) has undergone a radical new procedure that will allow her memories of Joel to be erased. When the characters played by Adams and Cross argue over whether it's right to be telling him this, Cross' character says, "It's about Joel, who's an adult, not Mama Carrie's kid." Except what I heard was "Mama Carrey's kid." I immediately searched the internet, including IMDB's listing of continuity errors, to see if this had been some kind of slip-up that no one ever caught. See, Jim Carrey is quite literally "Mama Carrey's kid," if you want to refer to his mother, Mrs. Carrey, as "Mama Carrey." What it turned out to be was that Adams' character is named Carrie, which struck me as possibly more than a coincidence. I thought it might have been another instance of someone referring to a real Carrey/Carrie by name -- you may remember that in Star Wars, after his character returns from blowing up the Death Star, Mark Hamill shouts "Carrie!" to Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher). They never caught it and it stayed in the movie.

2) Winslet is rightly considered one of our best actresses, and she received one of her six Oscar nominations for this film. But what I think is so fabulous about this particular performance is that it was the first time we really got to see her playing a modern woman -- someone with her hair dyed a different color in every scene, at that. That she mastered this as easily as all her roles in stuffy period pieces shows not only her talent, but also her range. There are plenty of people out there who have talent but no range, and I was pleased to be reminded that Kate has both.

3) Speaking of good performances, I think the secondary storyline involving Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson tends to get overlooked in the appreciation of Eternal Sunshine. They all give good performances, but the one that really flummoxes me is Ruffalo. Ruffalo was born in 1967, meaning he was 36 years old when he was filming these scenes. That makes him 14 years older than Wood and 15 years older than Dunst. Yet he somehow "shrunk himself" -- that's the only way I can describe it -- in order to adopt the mannerisms, appearance and physicality of a kid who just graduated college, seeming every bit the contemporary of Wood and Dunst. Go back and watch that performance, and you'll realize that Ruffalo has played full-grown men both before and after Eternal Sunshine -- but transformed himself into an early twentysomething kid here. It's almost creepy.

4) I love the way this movie speaks to anyone who has ever gone through a breakup, especially those who have sought to mend fences and start again. Eternal Sunshine underscores our addiction to our memories, and the necessity that we'll romanticize them, even if it's sometimes hurtful and destructive to us. Then it gives us that happy ending all incurable romantics and wounded souls want, but it comes with an asterisk. Joel and Clementine agree to try again, but they also realize they know where this will go -- if they start as blank slates, as they did when they first met, events will inevitably play themselves out to a point of irreconcilable difference once again, even if the details will be different. The movie tells us that we don't really want this happy ending, and by demonstrating the futility of trying to revisit a doomed relationship, it means to give its heartbroken viewers a different kind of happy ending: the closure they so desperately need, which will help them contextualize their memories, rather than feed off them.

I should watch things "just because" more often, indeed.


Aaron said...

This film really hits me on a personal level and I love it so much. As far as what you were saying about the strange "Mama Carrey" coincidence, there's also another VERY strange coincidence out there that is similar to the whole Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz thing, in which the Dark Side of the Moon album syncs up with the movie. In this case, there's an album called "El Cielo" by a band called Dredg (beautiful album, by the way) that syncs up with this movie. I've watched it three times with the album playing along with the film, and it's truly amazing. It's nothing more than a coincidence, but the way that it syncs up is incredible. You can go to the link below to read more about it if you're interested...

Vancetastic said...


Thanks for the heads up. That's a great find. Of course, it always begs the question: Who first discovers these things, and under what circumstances??

I'll have to try it out.