Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
You know Nordling by now. When the term “good egg” was created, he’s the one they were talking about. The script for Charlie Kaufman’s new collaboration with Michel Gondry is online, and it’s been read by pretty much anyone who is curious about it by now, but I enjoyed Nordling’s take on it enough to run one more peek:
“You’re what you love, not what loves you.”
-- Donald Kaufman, ADAPTATION
Hey all, Nordling here.
We’ve all had them. Failed relationships, the one that got away, the one that your mind thinks about now and again, wondering if maybe they might have been the One. Or we take them as cautionary tales, lessons on the roads of our lives, that have changed us and made us into the person that we are now. Regrets? Maybe. Relief? Sure. But these relationships are now in the past, and you have grown from each experience.
But what if you can never get past them? What if you’re not allowed to learn these life lessons? What if the pain is so strong that you would rather block it out entirely than live through it and maybe heal?
This is the center theme of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, the latest script from Charlie Kaufman, soon to be a film with Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Wilkinson, directed by Michel Gondry.
For those wishing to avoid spoilers, you should know that ESOTSM is a terrific script, possibly Kaufman’s best, and it’s not clever for the sake of clever. This script has a lot on its mind, and it’s sorrowful and moving. I am certain if done well this will be one of the best films of the coming year. Now go, you spoiler-free.
The script begins 50 years in the future (where we all travel in TUBES! Tube technology) with an old woman sitting in the lobby of a publishing house. She’s holding a book called ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. She claims it to be “the truth. And only I know it.” Flashback to present day, and a woman enters a doctor’s office. Her name is Clementine (played by Kate Winslet), and she’s in a bad relationship. It’s unclear what Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) can do about it, but she begins telling him about her relationship anyway.
Forward to two weeks later, and we meet Joel (Jim Carrey) at a commuter train station taking a sick day from work. He needs time to think. At the moment he’s getting back with an old flame and he’s not entirely sure he wants to. He takes the train to the beach, and on the beach he sees a woman with blue hair approach and walk past. For some reason, he can’t stop thinking about her. Later on, in a nearby diner, he sees her again. It’s Clementine, but he’s too shy to say anything. Later, at the train on the way back, they strike up a conversation. They take to each other almost instantly. Although Joel is reserved, Clementine has enough personality for the both of them. They find they like many of the same things, enjoy the same music. It’s almost like it was meant to be.
They continue talking, and after he gives her a ride home, and although he’s very attracted to her, they don’t sleep together. It’s a first meeting, but it’s electric, like the moment when you know you’ve met the one you want to spend the rest of your life with.
And it’s all a lie, although they have no idea.
Joel knows Clementine. And Clementine knows Joel. Except they’ve been erased from each others minds.
Dr. Mierzwiak has invented a new procedure. Have a traumatic life experience? He can take it, cleanly, out of your mind. To you, it never happened. Any emotions, memories, anything of the experience is gone.
Joel and Clementine did love each other once. But they broke each other’s hearts. Clementine slept around on Joel and drank heavily. Joel is afraid of committing to Clementine, afraid of having a child with her. And their relationship deteriorated, to the point that two weeks before the beach, Clem wanted to drive Joel completely out of her mind. And to Joel, this sounded like bliss. So he decides to undergo it as well.
Then he undergoes the procedure, reliving all his memories of her in his head while he sleeps. From the painful ones, the most recent, backwards. And as Dr. Mierzwiak’s staff works on Joel’s mind, erasing each individual memory of her, he is happy that she’s gone, all the pain, gone. Then, one memory surfaces. The two of them, in bed, talking of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. And Joel realizes he still loves her, in his memories, and fights back. He decides to find a place in his memories, his past, to hide her. But the team is thorough. Every time he thinks he’s hidden her, they wipe it out, ruthlessly.
The thing is, Joel is only remembering the Clementine he wants to remember, not the real thing. In the Charlie Kaufman films that I’ve seen, the common theme seems to be reality vs. the fantasy. In BEING JOHN MALKOVICH John Cusack’s fantasies about Catherine Keener were just that, compared to the reality of her. In ADAPTATION Meryl Streep’s Susan Orlean was only a figment in Charlie’s head. He never knew the real her, only what he imagined, in his limited experience. To me that is what much of Kaufman's work is all about: living in the real world, instead of a fantasy that does you no good.
The beauty of this script is that Charlie Kaufman nails what relationships are all about. We do want the fantasy, and sometimes the reality is not up to par with what we envisioned. As Clementine herself says to Joel on their first date:
Joel, I’m not a concept. I want you to just keep that in your head. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own piece of mind. Don’t assign me yours.
As Joel attempts to hide Clem in his mind, the doctor himself comes to oversee the procedure. It seems the doctor has also used it on his nurse, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), after a failed love affair. Dr. Mierzwiak is married with a family, and he took the memory of their relationship out of her head. But it seems that without the lessons learned, Mary is doomed to repeat her mistakes, as it seems Joel and Clementine may be doomed to repeat theirs.
This script is so well written it’s scary. Charlie Kaufman isn’t a fly-by-night – he’s seriously talented, and he sees a way around corners that the rest of us seem to miss. While ADAPTATION was good, it felt a little too clever for me. I thought it an interesting exercise, and worthy of much of the praise heaped on it. But ETERNAL SUNSHINE is much more than that. It pulls you in, makes you feel and remember, and then flips it around on you. It asks serious questions and lets us try to come up with the answers, like the great movies do. It’s a complicated love story that isn’t for casual audiences, and I hope that people find it when it gets released. The end of the script has our characters trapped in a hell of their own making, and lives lost to trying to “get it right,” rather than learning from what they got wrong.
I very much look forward to this film, and I feel that Charlie Kaufman may well have the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay locked up this year. I hope the film pays off.
It all depends on Gondry, and his first Kaufman film, HUMAN NATURE, was a real love-it-or-hate-it affair. I’m hoping he’s just the right choice for this particular slice of Heaven. Consider my fingers crossed. Thanks for the review, Nord.