Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Emma J Lennox reviews her ten favourite films, Part 3

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
USA 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Screenwriter: Charlie Kauffman
Runtime: 108 mins
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Momentum Home Entertainment

As a medium cinema is well equipped for dealing with the elusive and transitory, but in comparison to the novel it can lack the depth and contrariness of character. By placing the plot of my next top film inside the memories of one person, Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), is able to merge identity with point of view. The unconventional narrative structure is built upon the lucid memories and irrational thoughts of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey). The story becomes more erratic and chaotic as we roam Barish's mind as he tries to save the memory of Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) from an operation to erase her. It is quirky and inventive but it also has a profound meaning coursing throughout; that pain is a necessary part of life. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's intimate journey of the cerebral is fashioned out of visual tricks and effects, which dismantles moments of reality in a subjective way. The camera work is frenetic and hand held, the editing is disjointed and non linear and lighting is used theatrically in spotlights, all of which culminates in a nonsensical, but human, point of view of the world.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman not only creates a bizarre premise but fills it with layers of complex characters and engaging human drama resulting in an absorbing story which can be enjoyed on a number of levels. My favourite sub plot involves the cyclical turmoil of medical assistant Mary (Kirsten Dunst), who has a crush on her boss Dr. Howard Mierzwiack (Tom Wilkinson). Her emotional make up leads her to making the same decisions and mistakes even after 'altering' her memory. Her story in particular reinforces the allegorical tale and shows the strength of personality over events. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind flips the relationship genre inside out and demonstrates the true spark of individuality.

Don't Look Now
UK 1973
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenwriter: Allan Scott
Runtime: 110 mins
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warning: Contains Significant Plot Spoilers!

There is another film, however, who's cognitive use of memories and internal thoughts form a cinematic nightmare which has haunted me from the first viewing. Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973) is a terrifying drama in which everything appears to connect to a supernatural subconscious. John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are a bereaved couple who move to Venice after the death of their daughter, Christine. Reading the film is much like psychoanalysing a dream, and could also be described by Freud as 'a psychological structure, full of significance.' The labyrinthine city possesses many 'other worldly' qualities including mirrors, water and portals and the deadly use of the colour red. The meanings of symbols are conveyed by an expressive editing style which uses impulses of emotion as edit points rather than narrative. For example; by cross cutting mid action between Christine and her parents, significant tension is built up before the drowning scene.

Central to the story is John's neglected psychic ability, and like a tragic Shakespearean character this is the magic which brings about his downfall. There are even two witch like sisters (from Scotland to drive home the Macbeth reference), and the connotations are unsettlingly difficult to shake. There is an atmosphere of brooding apprehension, as piece by piece an intricate mural of supernatural terror develops. Shadows of precognition bring about the cutting and dramatically ironic ending in a climax of violence. The hooded figure which reminds John of his daughter turns round to reveal a grotesque gargoyle-like figure brandishing a knife. As he is struck, his life flashes before his eyes in a montage which combines insignificant moments now reaped together into cause and effect.

Yet Don't Look Now is also a realistic portrayal of a relationship surviving grief. Without a natural performance as a focus, the style would be ineffectual. As it is, chills crawl down my spine as the murdering dwarf shakes her head; a negative response to the question of John's existence.
Read Part 4 tomorrow!

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