Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which opens Friday, is the latest brain-bending film from Charlie Kaufman, writer of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
Last week, I sat down with writer Kaufman and director Michel Gondry to ask them why they are so attracted to unconventional stories.
Eternal Sunshine takes us into a bizarre dream-state. We enter the mind of an unconscious brain surgery patient (Jim Carrey) as he struggles to make sense of his scrambled memories. He has asked the doctor to "delete" all his memories of his girlfriend (Kate Winslet), but now he's having second thoughts. So he frantically tries to salvage some of the most precious moments they spent together before the doctors erase them from his mind. The result is something like a love story thrown in the blender.
Kaufman clearly delights in confounding audience expectations. Viewers respond in two ways—some are delighted to experience something new, challenging, and enlightening, while others are disgusted that they did not get the formulaic, easy-to-swallow entertainment or the happy ending they expected.
But Kaufman's stories can be unsettling for other reasons as well. In Kaufman's view of the world, people seem depraved, selfish, even self-absorbed. Like Flannery O'Connor, his stories are like nightmares that compel us toward the truth by showing us the consequences of foolish behavior.
Is Kaufman's spectacular avoidance of clichés a reaction against Hollywood? Or is it a reflection of obscure filmmaking influences?
"It might be a reaction," he muses. "Conventional story elements and frothy romantic stories—I have a reaction against that. I don't have that experience in my life, and I've always felt left out because of that, so ...1
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