Charlie Kaufman is back with another surrealist exploration of universal themes – this time love and memory. Kaufman also shoes his genius at choosing his collaborators again. Being John Malkovich was the feature debut of one of the greatest music video directors of all time: Spike Jonze. This is the second feature by another of the greatest music video directors of all time: Michel Gondry.
The science fiction conceit is that Lacuna, Inc. has developed a
technology which can erase people’s memories. It’s often used to deal with heartbreak. The film seems very non-linear, but the structure is actually a lot simpler than it appears: other than a framing device in the “present,” most of the film takes place linearly while Joel (Jim Carrey) has his memories of ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) erased. Much of the movie takes place in Joel’s memories, and Gondry gets to use a variety of exciting visual techniques (mostly just lighting, though there’s also some play with the sets and some cgi) to portray the scenes as memories and to represent their erasing. Along the way, we see the memory erasing technicians and their own messy lives. The cast is incredibly deep with Tom Wilkinson as the head of Lacuna and a sf trifecta of Bruce Banner, Mary Jane Watson, and Frodo Baggins (Mark Ruffalo, Kirtsen Dunst, and Elijah Wood) as his employees.
The visuals are great, and the film’s structure is a puzzle that’s fun and intriguing without ever becoming frustrating. The performances are wonderful. Kate Winslet is one of the greatest working actresses, and she effortlessly slips into a quirky character. Clementine is bursting with spontaneity (including ever-changing hair colors), but she’s not the typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She has very real and serious problems. Carrey has garnered acclaim for a lot of his performances, starting with The Truman Show, but this is the first movie where I’ve really loved him as an actor. Most importantly, the relationship feels as real as any I’ve ever seen in a movie. The film manages to capture the feeling of falling in love, and the feeling of a relationship falling apart…and the odd structure makes this strangely redemptive without ever coming close to cheese.
This is one of the greatest and most innovative sf films out there. It uses a speculative device to get at core, universal emotions. The Incredibles is good fun, but I think the WorldCon voters blew it on this one, and again, Saturn’s eclecticism keeps things interesting.