Movies: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Ah, Memorial Day. What better time to review Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

In the weeks after The Squirrelly was born, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Wracked with sleep deprivation, my memory — which barely ranks an “adequate” even under the best of circumstances — essentially packed up and went on sabbatical. It got to the point where the only thing I could remember from one moment to the next was the fact that I couldn’t remember a thing. I went out a bought a big whiteboard for my kitchen so I could write down anything of relevance; when people told me things I’d politely request that they retell their stories some day in the future when I emerged from my fog. It was odd to be cognizant of the fact that all these momentous things were happening to me as I struggled through the first days of fatherhood, and to be equally aware that I would soon recall almost none of them.

That’s thing about memory: it defines you, yet it’s so damn fickle. Many films have grappled with this paradox — Memento, The Bourne Identity, Total Recall, etc. — but few have done so as thought provokingly as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It’s a retelling of the classic story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl visits Lacuna Incorporated to have all memories of their relationship purged via a high-tech neurological procedure. The next time the ex-lovers cross paths, Joel (Jim Carrey) is astounded to discover that Clementine (Kate Winslet) has no recollection of their time together; when he’s clued in to what she has done, he resolves to visit Lacuna and have the relationship excised from his head as well.

Here I expected the film to fast-forward to the aftermath of the operation, when Joel and Clementine, neither able to recall their previous life together, cross path again and wacky hijinks ensue. That just demonstrates the folly of trying to predict anything in a film written by Charlie Kaufman, he of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Where any other film would have glossed over the details of the erasure, using it simply as the means to an end (wacky hijinks), Eternal instead embeds the bulk of the story right into the procedure, cutting between the recollections in Joel’s head that have been targeted for elimination, and assorted concurrent events in the outside world.

Thus, the audience learns the history of the relationship via Joel’s memories, even as they are being eradicated from his mind; every advance we gain in our understanding of the couple is matched by a corresponding loss in Joel’s . This has the effect of making these scene especially poignant, as if these memories are being taken from Joel and entrusted into our care. And, surprisingly, wacky hijinks never ensue. Although the script is plenty bizarre and there is no shortage of funny moments, the subject matter is, by and large, treated with respect and sobriety.

What’s interesting about Eternal is that the central story is not the science-fiction premise of memory erasing, but the very traditional love story at it’s core. It’s a credit to the skill of Kaufman and director Michel Gondry that the mind-bending aspects of the framing device enhance rather than detract from the telling of Joel and Clementine’s story. Absent the unusual premise, Eternal could have been a frightfully dull mediation on the very time-worn tale of human relationships: passion + time = boredom and irritation; instead, the filmmakers pull off a masterful slight-of-hand that, like Lacuna Incorporated, makes us forget that we’ve seen this story a dozen times before, allowing us to enjoy it as if seeing it for the very first time.

Three Month Update

Chatting with The Queen.

The Queen: Hey, when are you going to do the three month update for The Squirrelly?

Me: The “three month update?” What do you mean?

Q: On your site.

M: Still not following.

Q: On defective yeti you write those updates every month on The Squirrelly’s birthday, remember? And he’s three months old, now. So when are you going to post the next one?

M: Um, I think you’re confusing me with Dooce.

Q: I am?

M: Yeah. I’ve never done anything like that, but Heather writes a monthly newsletter for Leta.

Q: Oh, right. Well, you know: you bloggers are all alike.

Poor girl: she’s going to be crushed when she finds out I was never on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Chaotic Evil

FBI Warning: Al-Qaida May Possess Magic Missiles

Citizens who see sticks turn to snakes should contact the authorities immediately.

Bush Announces Twelve Step Plan For Iraq

President George Bush, speaking at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. yesterday, unveiled a new twelve-step plan to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

"First, I will admit we have a problem," Bush said, signaling a stark departure from the administration's current position. "Then I will recognize that we need help, I will seek the aid of other nations, and I'll make a searching and fearless moral inventory of our policy of preemption." He went on to outline the plan's eight additional steps during the 90 minute speech.

Speaking to reporters earlier today, John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, called the plan "completely unworkable." "I mean, do we really expect George Bush to take steps eight and nine: 'make a list of all persons I have harmed' and 'apologize to those I have wronged'? Even if he did, it would take months."

The President, however, was unfazed by such criticism. "Don't worry," Bush reassured doubters, "I've done this before."


The Queen, on The Squirrelly: “He has a big nose. He must have gotten yours.”

There’s one reason why cloning will never catch on, right there: the inability to attribute undesirable attributes in your offspring to a mate.

Saturday we went to a reunion for all the parents who were in our childbirth education class. I met ten brand new babies and, bizarrely, was able to remember each and every one of their names. This is very unusual, as I have no head for names at all. In fact, I couldn’t remember the names of any of the parents at the party, and wound up calling them things like “Lucy’s father” and “genetic contributor to Sam.” So if you ever meet me in person and want to make sure I remember your name, try spitting up or pooping in your pants immediately after we shake hands — maybe that will help.

The highlight of the event was a group photo, where all the newborns were shoehorned into a couch and many a snapshot was taken.

The Squirrely is second from the left, showing off his tie-dyed socks and his preternatural ability to slouch.

It’s probably best that no one overheard me tell The Queen that it looked like “a dingo buffet.”

The Golden Age

When I was your age the streets were paved with gold. And what a nightmare that was. When it rained, water would fill the deep ruts that vehicles left in the soft metal; when it was sunny, the roads became so hot that they would melt your tires as you idled at a stoplight.

It always struck me as pretty stupid, not to mention expensive. So I decided to do something about it. That’s how I invented asphalt — and became the millionaire I am today.

Research Day: The “Teeth Falling Out” Dream

What’s the deal with the “teeth falling out” dream?: A few times a year I have a dream in which my teeth are either loose or falling out. I’d always assumed that these dreams were unique to me, until a few years ago at a party when I overheard a girl describing just such a dream to a friend, who responded with “Oh yeah, ‘the teeth falling out’ dream. Everyone gets those.” I’ve since discover that this is not strictly true: not everyone gets them — The Queen doesn’t, for example. But they are certainly not rare. In fact, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud named it as one of the four “typical dreams,” along with “falling from a height, … flying, and embarrassment because one is naked or scantily clad.”

This was a tough one to research, not due to dearth of information on the subject, but rather because of abundance. There are a bajillion websites that purport to interpret dreams, but most of them appear to utilize the scientific method commonly referred to as “guessing.” A good example is this one which says that the “teeth falling out dream” must have to do with anxiety over children, because “animals carry their young around with their teeth.”

The most common explanation on these sites is that the “teeth falling out” dream reflects anxiety about appearance. I can see that, I guess, but it seems like that when I have this dream, I am much more concerned about the actual loss of my teeth rather than about my resultant appearance. Another common interpretation is that this results from the dreamer’s fears about “losing power”. That hits closer to home for me — in the dreams I always find myself wondering how I’m going to eat with no teeth — but I haven’t made a conscience effort to note when these dreams take place and see if they correspond with feelings of “power loss” in my waking life (like, when I’m in close proximity to Kryptonite).

Perhaps it’s the skeptic in me, but I find the most plausible explanation to be the most boring: that the dreams are a manifestation of bruxism (“the habitual, involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth, usually during sleep”) which, according to my dentist, I show symptoms of. I guess I better get that Night Guard after all.

Bonus! Who was in The Wiz?: Dorothy: Diana Ross; The Scarecrow: Michael Jackson; The Tinman: Nipsey Russell; The Lion: Ted Ross; The Wiz: Richard Prior.