Tag Archives: Comedy

Brief thoughts on Eternal Sunshine

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer:  Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman writes movies with uniquely bizarre premises and utterly human themes.  In Being John Malkovich, he deals with identity, aspirations, and the hard reality of existence.  Adaptation is about the creative struggle and the need to adapt and evolve with the circumstances.  In Synecdoche, New York he presents us with a stylized look at our perception of life and other people.  In Eternal Sunshine he searches through the meaning of love and memory.  All of these descriptions are trite, insufficient, and probably inaccurate.  They are, however, what I recall learning from and seeing in the films.

I just re-viewed Eternal Sunshine.  I think it is his best script, and one of the best scripts of the 00’s.  In all his films, Kaufman is able to create a bizarre world filled with eccentric characters that are surprisingly like each of us.  I have not had to deal with the rise and fall of a relationship like Joel and Clementine do in the movie.  I have had to deal with the peaks and valleys of ones.  I can most certainly understand the place memory holds in our value system.

I recently saw a lecture on the meaning of happiness.  The speaker noted that there are two main types of happiness:  that which comes from experiencing and that which comes from remembering.  This movie very effectively illustrates that there is a disconnect between the two.  The lecturer noted that people who moved from Ohio to California would say that they are happier.  They aren’t.  They remember the hard winters and are comparing their present experience to their memories.  We tend to filter our memories to extremes, either very good or very bad.  We tend to not place emphasis on the middle.

One of the many problems with Joel and Clementine in the movie is that they place more emphasis on present experience rather than memory.  In the end, Joel comes to realize the importance of memory, and its supremacy to the present.  Even though he knows his relationship with Clementine will probably fail, he is will to move ahead, if only for the pleasant memories of pleasant times.

The themes of this movie are similar to the themes of Dark City, another very good movie.  The two might make an interesting double-feature, even though the forms of the movies are very different.

Rating:  9/10

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Playtime

Director:  Jacques Tati

France, 1967

Playtime is as unique a movie as I have ever seen.  It is a film that defies description.  As Roger Ebert says, “[It] is one of a kind, complete in itself, a species already extinct at the moment of its birth.”  It was directed by Jacques Tati, hardly well-known today.  He is the direct predecessor of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd.  Tati’s alter ego, M. Hulot, is very similar to those comedy stars of the silent era.

Playtime essentially has no plot.  Rather, it has a series of themes and incidents.  M. Hulot is a character in it, at least on the periphery.  He has traveled to Paris (an ultra-modernized Paris completely of Tati’s imagination) for some sort of business meeting.  What type of meeting it is is rather unclear, and totally irrelevant.  Hulot is just one of many recurring characters in the film.  We are not supposed to know much about them.  They are just part of the landscape that Tati paints.

The comedy that Tati employs throughout the film is far from the physical comedy of the aforementioned filmmakers.  The film is full of sight gags, many of which are readily apparent.  At one point, an American tourist wanders in a building and looks at a travel poster advertising London.  In the picture we see a large, rectangular building with a London-ish double-decker bus in front.  She then walks outside and sees the exact same scene, a large, rectangular building (identical to the one in the building) and a bus (this time a green Paris-ish bus) in front.  At a restaurant, a glass door breaks.  The doorman quickly picks up the handle and pretends to open the door for the customers, even takes tips from them.  Toward the end of the movie, a number of cars travel around a traffic circle while carnival music plays.  All the cars stop.  After a man places a coin in a parking meter, all the cars start moving again.

I really enjoyed this film, though it isn’t easily accessible.  It is pure cinema, to use Hitchcock’s phrase.  That is, it relies solely on images to tell the story, or in this case, stories.  There is almost no dialog.  What dialog there is is completely superfluous.  Someone compared it to 2001, though Playtime has actually less dialog than that.  Most of the scenes are shot from a distance.  There are no close-ups, and very few medium shots.  You are able to see far too much in each scene.  This technique requires you to be observant, as we are not told what to look at.  Many critics have noted that you need to watch this film several times in order to contemplate all there is to contemplate.

One of the main themes is the affect that modern technology has on man, vice-versa.  I was reminded of the writings of Neil Postman, who spoke often of how technology changes the way we view the world.  In Playtime, technology, specifically architecture, determines much about how the characters act.  It is a Huxleyan future, one where people are lulled into ambivalence.

There are many aspects of this film that cause you to think.  There are also many aspects that cause you to smile.  Often, the same part of the film accomplishes both.  That is one mark of a great film, one that entertains while it enlightens.  If you are willing to give it your time, it can reward you greatly.

Rating:  9/10