ETERNAL SUNSINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

“Change your heart,
and look around you..
Change your heart,
it will astound you
…..everybody`s gotta learn sometime…”

Your heart has been broken in a love relationship that ends.
Someone offers you the chance to literally erase that relationship–that person–and everything about it and them–from your memory forever.

 
Would you do it?
Should you do it?
COULD you do it?

 
Such is the provocative premise of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, my favorite film of 2004. (I am avoiding the connotation of “best” because I think that notion indicates an absolute and I believe that, as it relates to the utter subjectivity of film, we can only speak for ourselves.)

 

To delve into the story too much would so much lessen the discovery of and fascination in its intricacy that I will only say that the heart of the film takes place in the mind of its main character Joel, played with nuance, sensitivity, and endearing vulnerability by Jim Carrey, in the first role in which he literally disappears into his character. As Carrey remembers Clementine, the great love of his life (played with heartbreaking, poignant, eclectic and luminescent beauty by the inestimable Kate Winslett, who also stars in FINDING NEVERLAND, my close second choice off 2004), each memory is, at his request, systematically erased….or …is it? Can it ever be?

 
The touchstone of Spiritual Cinema is the asking of questions about who we are and why we are here. As such, ETERNAL SUNSHINE is perhaps a seminal film and one that I passionately recommend that you see with other friends and loved ones because the discussions afterwards hold the promise of a very emotional catharsis. Beyond, beneath, and above the story itself lie hypnotic musings and tantalizing possibilities.

 
The extraordinary Japanese film AFTER LIFE illuminated the intriguing dilemma of having to choose one memory in which to spend eternity. In ETERNAL SUNSHINE, the haunting question relates rather to the potential erasure of memories of those we have loved and who have loved us. What happens to our experience of those memories if the love transforms into pain, heartbreak, and sadness? Do we live in the sunshine of the love as it was when it shone most brightly or do we suffer in the darkness of the pain of the aftermath of heartbreak and disillusionment? No matter how deeply our pain might run, would we erase those memories if we could? Or, perhaps, can we choose to experience both the light and the darkness, simultaneously and forever? The choice is always ours. If we could literally erase those conscious, and even subconscious memories, would something still remain in the depth of our unconscious, waiting to be triggered anew at a particular moment? Most importantly, what indeed ARE those memories? When we know that time is an illusion, and that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, what do we make real and what do we render to our dream and other than conscious states?

 
Isn`t this all a metaphor for our journey through our lifetimes, when we make decisions in the world between death and life and then play out those commitments in the moments between life and death? When, no matter what, we recognize each other without the assistance of conscious memory. When we know we`ve been together before because we have. When only the illusionary veil of the cycle of death and life separates us from remembering who we have been to each through the centuries. When we make these eternal commitments, we have intentions that may not ever consciously occur to our human selves but, somehow, we find each other and play out the scenarios. On our way home…to oneness.

 
Perhaps, then, at the depth and breadth of its vision, this amazing movie even presents us with the hope that our running can finally come to an end in the ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF (OUR) SPOTLESS MIND. As such, the film is nothing less than a reflection of those extraordinary promises that we make to each other, the “knowing” that no disappointment or heartbreak can erase from the blueprint of our soul. When entertainment can do this, it transcends the experience of movies and touches the face of eternity.

 
And offers tantalizing glimpses to us of whom we may really be.

 
FINDING NEVERLAND

 
FINDING NEVERLAND is absolutely magical, emotional, touching, and beautiful. The film is set in 1903 London and is loosely based on the true story of how James Barrie found and was inspired to write and initially stage the immortal PETER PAN. Not in recent memory has a film been so exquisitely titled that its very name defines both the journey of every character and also the very soul of the film’s multi-leveled essence.

 
Johnny Depp charmingly and lovingly plays Barrie as a man who knows that there is a unique place in his own heart — and in the hearts of people everywhere — where belief in magic is eternal. A place he calls Neverland. Depp’s Barrie is a man so deeply in touch with his own inner child that it actually threatens his relationship with both his producer and his wife; nevertheless, Barrie presses on with his quest to manifest a piece of literary art that would change the face of theater forever. The stirring musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber (whose PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is also on this list) might never have seen the light of a London stage if Barrie had not been so devoted to creating Neverland for his audience.

 
The exquisite Kate Winslett plays widowed mother Sylvia Davies whom Barrie encounters in a park one day in the company of her four young boys. Sylvia herself is seeking a way to find a sense of adventure for her young sons that will help them heal their sorrow over the death of their father, and Barrie introduces her to his own vision of Neverland, to which she is inexorably drawn for her own secret reasons. In turn, Barrie is enchanted by Sylvia and her sense of love and openness, which seems so different from the chasm that has opened between Barrie and his own wife. (Please permit me a slight digression here to just say that I am always beyond delighted to see Winslett on screen for many reasons. Most keenly, as a father of four young women in an age of media-inspired eating disorders, I think Ms. Winslett is a fantastic role model of a beautiful and talented woman who is blithely committed to NOT having to fit into a size 0 dress!)

 
The boys themselves are also in their own search for Neverland as they wrestle with their senses of abandonment and grief and it is here that the film finds the depth of its soul. Barrie introduces the boys (the youngest of whom is named Peter) to a world of play and imagination that not only begins to ease their mourning but also engenders in all of them the sense of their own potential as human beings. Barrie found his inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys with these four young men and it is just dazzling to watch the magic unfold.

 
Loving, heartfelt, and lyrically beautiful, FINDING NEVERLAND is the kind of film that “they don’t make any more.” Just like the audiences who have seen PETER PAN over the last century, it allows and indeed encourages all of us to feel better about and even deeply proud of our own humanity. When a film does that, it touches the face of the ultimate expression of the art form itself and we are offered a glimpse of our own estimable beauty as a species.

 

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

 
The film version of the wildly successful musical stage version of PHANTOM is a melodramatic (in the BEST sense of that word), deliriously romantic, tragic (in the best sense of THAT word), and epic love story. In addition, it is one of the most gorgeously designed, costumed, photographed, and directed films I have seen in a very long time.

 
The film has both a new prologue and epilogue that were not in the play and they contribute beautifully to the story of Christine and her tragically obsessed admirer.

 
The body of the movie is faithful to the play while, at the same time, it takes full advantage of the richer and more abundant medium of film. For instance, the Phantom’s first foray with Christine into his underground hideaway grotto is a breathtakingly beautiful and mystical visual journey, whereas, on stage, most of it had to implied.

 
The cast is amazingly wonderful, particularly Emmy Rossum who plays Christine with a deep sense of compassion, innocence, and gentleness. Gerard Butler’s portrayal of The Phantom is alternately powerful, menacing, tragic, and fragile.

 
Rarely do filmed versions of successful musicals rise to the quality of their staged counterparts; however, I must say here that I enjoyed this PHANTOM even more than the two different stage versions that I have seen.

 
Cynics need not even THINK of watching this film as they will go shrieking into the night after the first few scenes; however, for those of you who enjoy classic love stories like ROMEO AND JULIET and, maybe THE WAY WE WERE, you are in for a wonderful and moving two and a half hours…..and a good cry.

 

BEFORE SUNSET

 
Directed by the brilliant Richard Linklater (WAKING LIFE),
BEFORE SUNSET is a sequel to BEFORE SUNRISE, shot 9 years earlier with the same director and two-actor cast. SUNRISE was about two young people who met for one night in Paris, fell in love, made love, and promised to meet again. SUNSET picks up many years later when one of the pair (Ethan Hawke) has written a book and is back in Paris where his lost love (Julie Delpy) comes to his book signing and they reunite to reminisce and explore what happened.

 
That all happens in the first 5 minutes —after that, the film is a tour-de-force plunge into love, vulnerability, lost innocence, and longing. Never have I seen two actors so completely inhabit their characters any more than Hawke and Delpy. They both give bravura, wrenching, witty, and devastatingly honest Academy Award-caliber performances.

 
BEFORE SUNSET explores moments of grace in our lives in which we encounter others who inspire, empower, and stimulate us to plumb the bottomless depth of our souls. The film is a bracing mixture of comedy, pathos, drama, and brilliantly insightful dialogue that combine to create one of those rare moments in film which will last forever in the hearts and minds of those who are open to the resonance of its revelations about the human condition.

 
See it with an open heart and I believe that you will be as enthralled and enchanted as I was.

 
THE NOTEBOOK

 
Sometimes, a great love…seems just fated. The minute two people lock eyes, the tumblers instantaneously fall into place and they just know they want to be together forever. Sadly, for many of those couples the “forever” only lasts for days or weeks or even a few years, but it does end. For a few people, however, “forever” means exactly that….obstacles, challenges, time and distance dissolve—the love survives and blazes brightly throughout their lives.

 
It is that fated and inevitable “forever” kind of love that breathes passion into the core of the beautiful and poignant film version of The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel.

 
Set primarily in the 1940s, the film’s love story revolves around two teenagers (Noah and Ally) who meet and fall in love (maybe this phrase should be changed to “rise in love”?) during one idyllic summer, only to have Ally’s parents split them apart. They both go their separate ways until …….

 
I can’t tell any more of the story without ruining some of the surprises in the film and that I don’t want to do; however, there is one aspect of the film that I do indeed want to highlight. By doing so, I will be revealing something about the plot. Although it is something that most of you will connect very quickly in the film anyway, I do want to caution those of you who want NOTHING to be revealed that you SHOULD STOP READING RIGHT HERE!…and maybe save this story until after you see the film.

 
OK?…for those of you still with us, there is something unique and powerfully moving about the “bookends” of the film. James Garner and Gena Rowlands (who is actually the mother of the director of the film) play the elderly version of the young lovers in the film. Garner is reading the story of the two young lovers to Ally in a rest home because Ally suffers from dementia and cannot even remember who he is, or who her children are. Although their relationship is not revealed immediately, it doesn’t take long to figure it out and the poignancy of the situation provides a powerful subtext to the love story.

 
More often than not, screen love stories focus on the “getting there” but very rarely illuminate the “being there” and even more rarely–the “having been there.” There seem to be a lot of people who are enamored with falling (rising) in love but somewhat lost at the “maintaining it” part, yes? (I hear a lot of you out there murmuring–“a lot of people”?—it’s a damn epidemic!)

 
What makes this aspect of The Notebook so notable and so laudable is that the pure sexual chemistry between the young lovers is so fierce and overpowering for them both that it is wonderful indeed to actually witness how that facet of their love evolves as they enter their “twilight years”. This is the rare film that really shows a wider panoply of love, from youth through some maturity and then to old age, and that odyssey is one of the many reasons why I recommend the film so highly.

 
For those of you who are attracted to the film, I think you will have a wonderful time.

 
Stephen Simon produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, produced and directed INDIGO, and wrote The Force is With You: Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives. He also co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle www.spiritualcinemacircle.com .Stephen welcomes your comments by email: Stephen @spiritualcinemacircle.com