Recommended with caution. Charlie Kaufman, who wrote this movie, also wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I must say, he is probably the most interesting and unique writer in Hollywood. Though I disagree with his worldview, his stories are very thought-provoking and stimulating. Years ago, Francis Schaeffer opened the eyes of the Faith Community to see that Art movements are driven, not merely by aesthetics and style, but by philosophy and worldviews for changing culture. Well, I’m here to say that modern movies (along with TV) is the new dominant art form that is driven by philosophy and worldviews. And this movie proves the point loudly. The power of movies is the ability to incarnate a worldview into the story such that it fleshes out what is otherwise considered an ivory tower philosophizing. Case in point: Eternal Sunshine, which deliberately proposes the Nietzschean philosophical notion of the “eternal return” or “eternal recurrence.” Bizarre brain hurting stuff that would otherwise be limited to pointy-headed academics arguing in a classroom is now popularized for the culture to consume, and 99 percent of the viewers won’t have a clue that they are ingesting and synthesizing the philosophy of the Grandfather of Postmodernism himself, “The Antichrist,” Friedrich Nietzsche. The story is a romance between Joel (Jim Carrey), a nerdish boring nobody, and Clementine (Kate Winslet), a wacky impulsive girl who fall in love and out of love because they end up getting on each other’s nerves. Clementine goes to a special doctor who can erase memories in order to purge herself of all the memories of Joel, who ended up making her miserable. When Joel discovers this, he goes to purge his memories of her as well. Unfortunately, in the middle of the erasing, we are in Joel’s mind, and he decides he doesn’t want to erase her because there was so much good that he experienced because of her. So he seeks to try to save some of those memories by harboring them in secret recesses of his mind. It’s all very clever and interesting, and the movie is cut non-linear, so it reinforces the confusion Joel is experiencing as he discovers his blunder. Well, what happens is that they end up together again, without knowing who each other is, and start a romance all over. When one of the employees loses faith in the company and reveals to the two lovers that they have been together in the past and erased their memories, the two of them get depressed and consider breaking up to avoid the inevitable misery. Clementine says, they haven’t changed. They are the same people, and they will end up doing the same thing to each other. But Joel ends up telling Clementine, “So what.” So what if that happens. There is so much fun along the way before they get there. They decide to just go for it anyway. This is a very interesting proposition that our memories, (another postmodern discussion) are not mere reminiscences floating around in our brains, but substantively change who we are. Trying to get rid of bad memories will not redeem us. They change us permanently, and are inescapably a part of who we are. And here’s where Nietzsche comes in. Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence or eternal return was another logical result of the “death of God” philosophy. He understood that linear history, with its beginning, middle and end, reflected a Christian worldview of origins and purpose, so he tried to replace that linearity with a cyclical view he called “eternal recurrence.” This view posited that the universe, being eternal, had no beginning but was eternally changing. Since the universe is finite, it will ultimately keep changing through every possible change, recycling all possible states, over and over, throughout all eternity. There is no heaven, no eternal reward and punishment; there is simply the eternal return of everything. Essentially, this is a rather pessimistic worldview about the nature of man. But so what? Says Nietzsche. So then we should embrace this fact that man is “eternally the same,” he doesn’t change, and is destined to repeat himself, winding up in the same place he started. We should accept this and “be who we are,” rather than try to change ourselves according someone else’s morality (read: Christianity). Lest anyone think I am reading too much into the film: A big worldview clue for the viewer of movies is that when a character in a movie quotes someone like a famous person, that is more than likely a reference from the writer to the influence of the theme. And Kaufman has the Kirsten Dunst character in Eternal Sunshine quote Nietzsche from Bartlett’s quotations, not once, but twice, just to make sure we get it. She quotes, “Blessed are the forgetful: for they “get the better” even of their blunders.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #217). Kaufman mocks traditional story structure and along with it, traditional morality, by having protagonists NOT learn and NOT change for the better. In other words, we are redeemed not by repenting or changing but by recognizing that we don’t change, and just enjoy the ride of life. Experience without morality. This nihilistic worldview scorns redemption, and condescends to traditional story structure. But of course, in a twist of self-contradiction, it ultimately supports traditional notions of redemption because proposing that we need to stop seeking redemption and embrace who we are is in fact a proposition of a kind of redemption. It’s just a different kind of redemption. But it is still saying we are doing something wrong and need to change how we are dealing with it. Instead of realizing our faults and changing them according to a moral standard, this is a redemption from morality and goodness into the selfish embracing of ourselves without repentance. By the way, the movie is edited non-linearly, which also reinforces the Nietzschean contempt for linear history. A brilliant script and movie with a diabolically egocentric worldview. By the way, in case you are interested, I write all about this and how Nietzsche has influenced other films in my book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.
Not Recommended. This is a story about a neurotic control clean freak, played by Ben Stiller who falls for loosey goosey freebird Polly, played by Jennifer Anniston, after his new wife leaves him on the first day of their honeymoon for a scuba diving instructor. This Farrelly Brothers wannabe is loaded with a lot of very interesting quirky characters with a lot of laughs, but never quite measures up to the masters of quirk. Ben is obsessed with hygiene, Polly is so absent-minded, she forgets why she calls Ben in the middle of discussions. Ben’s boss, played with a hearty humor by Alex Baldwin, is a crude yet lovable no-nonsense New Yorker. And Ben’s friend, played hilariously by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a self-obsessed has-been actor. Some funny moments in this pic, but there are some major problems with it. First, the movie is set up as a typical romantic comedy, so the excessive potty humor jars it out of its genre. It’s sortofa confusion between gross out and traditional romance. But that could be simply my personal taste. The major problem with the movie is in the character. Polly, the love interest in Ben’s story, is not ultimately a desirable catch. The storytellers give us no depth or complexity to her character other than one small reference to the fact that her father lived a double life with a second family in another city. But she has no character arc, she learns nothing in the process, she is commitment-phobic and ends commitment phobic, without any personal growth. She has no real special traits that make her sympathetic or desirable. Her dominant trait is her wild risk-taking, which considering the source of it, is not really a virtue, though it is portrayed as such. In short, she is really an uninteresting person and an undesirable partner to pursue, which makes the film unsatisfying.
Recommended. This is a wonderful comedy about a big family that elevates family as more important than career and personal ambition. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt play the fun-loving parents of twelve kids, who manage to maintain a controlled chaos. When Steve gets the job opportunity of a lifetime, to coach his old alma mater football team, the family moves, against the wishes of the kids, out of their rural life into Evanston Illinois. The tension is magnified when Bonnie has to leave for a couple weeks for a book tour for her surprise hit sale of a book to a major publishing house. Ironically, the book is called Cheaper by the Dozen. So Steve has to watch the kids right in the middle of important new job responsibilities. His job dictates more and more time away, until the home falls apart because he is not there as much as he needs to be. He ultimately chooses his family over career. I must say that big families will love this film, but I gotta say that with all the laughs, about half way through I started thinking that I certainly would not. But I loved it just the same for it’s goodness and wholesome view of life. Lovable realistic kids with problems and issues. But they all draw together in times of need.
Recommended with caution. Finally, a movie about an older man who falls in love with a woman his own age, rather than the age of his daughter. For that, I loved this film. And of course, only a woman could have written it and directed it because of the adolescent understanding that most men in the business have of relationships. Of course, the fornication in this story is not recommendable, but the story about an aged man who finally grows up is very satisfying and mature.
Recommended. A Farrelly brothers comedy about a pair of conjoined twins (NOT Siamese! Conjoined!) played by Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear. For those concerned, this is probably the least offensive of the Farrelly brother movies, Me, Myself and Irene being the most offensive. It’s the story of these brothers who are total opposites in personality yet they find a harmony in sacrificial love for one another and the ability to work together as complimentary opposites. Matt gives up his freedom because he decided against the operation that would separate them. Why? Because he had most of the liver and that would jeopardize Greg’s life, so he chose his brother’s life over his freedom Wow, what sacrifice. Then Greg wants to become an actor in Hollywood and Matt is horrified since he has major stage fright. Not to mention the obvious impossibility of conjoined twins actually acting in movies. But of course, the impossible happens and Greg gets to costar with Cher in a TV show ( A wonderfully surprising self-lampooning by Cher as a snippy, self-obsessed, image obsessed, spoiled has-been superstar). Eventually, Greg decides to push for the separation operation because he sees that Matt is miserable in Hollywood and wants to go back to their small town. So Greg sacrifices and risks his safety so his brother can find his dreams since Greg got to find his. It’s all really rather touching and a great tale about brotherly love and self sacrifice for the happiness of others. It’s also about finding harmony in complimentarity, opposites can find interdependency as well as independence in a harmony, if we only compromise with giving love for one another. It’s about how true deformity and inhumanity lies in the Hollywood abuse of people and themselves. The people around these brothers are more disabled than they are. It’s ultimately about connectedness and interdependence, those things we all look for, but for which few are willing to pay the price. Also, what I love about the Farrelly brothers is that they use real people in their films who are otherwise discriminated against in Hollywood: the untouchables, the handicapped. Not just the actors playing handicapped, but actual handicapped actors playing roles. And they use them in loving ways without patronizing them. They address the ridicule that these precious people receive with a straight up honesty, but always have them rise above it with their own dignity. This is genuine and authentic human filmmaking. Tons of laughs and tons of beautiful humanity.
Recommended with Qualification. Will Ferrel is a human that was abandoned as a baby and through happenstance ended up at Santa’s home in the North Pole. So he is raised as an elf until he discovers one day he is actually human and sets out to search for his father who lives in New York. Of course, the father, played by James Caan, is a selfish SOB who doesn’t want anything to do with Will. The laughs come from the Elf’s naieve innocence in contrast with the cynical lost people of the city. But he wins everyone’s heart, including Caan’s, and a love interest as well. Sweet, sweet, sweet. This film is funny, warm-hearted, endearing, has some good values and is totally clean. And best of all, it’s theme is that innocence wins. So why don’t I recommend it? I want to, I really do. I wanted to support a wholesome valued movie. But values are more than the lack of sex and violence. They are also about worldviews. The reason I recommend with qualification is because it is a mythology that intentionally obscures the true and sacred meaning of Christmas: Jesus Christ. That’s right: Christ-Mass. I’m not against secular mythology per se. I have no problem with using prevailing mythologies or genres subversively to communicate good values. In fact, I’m not even against all Santa Claus movies, sight unseen. It’s just that I know that the Santa Claus myth has developed with the intent to divert attention from the true and sacred source of grace and redemption, and for that reason it is personally offensive. Now, I know that the fat old man in red was based upon St. Nick who was originally a Christian. But in this case, the man in red is more like the devil because of what he has become: a smoke screen obscuring the “true spirit” of Christmas. Let’s be honest, there is nothing about “St. Nick” in this popular image as he appears in this movie (And I’m sure radical activist Ed Asner certainly wouldn’t have played Santa if there was). And I know that Christmas was originally a pagan festival called “Saturnalia” that the Roman Catholic Church took over and reinvented as Christmas. And this is exactly what the Santa Claus myth has done, stolen back the Christian holy day and redefined it in secular terms of human goodness WITHOUT God. You know, naughty and nice, which is ultimately a system of salvation by good works. Pure balderdash. Damning balderdash at that. So the pagans have stolen the holy day back and made it a mere holiday that diverts man’s attention from the one thing he needs most: A Savior. That is the sacrilege of it. That is the rape of the Christian mythology.
The movie is all about innocence lost in a cynical selfish culture. Great intentions, bad results. And you know, it would not take much for me to turn around and change everything I just said. If only the storytellers had tied in the true meaning of Christmas, even subtley, in the background, then I would whole-heartedly embrace it. And wouldn’t that be creative irony, too? The myth pointing to the reality. Alas, God is IGNORED entirely. There wasn’t even a manger at the bottom of a Christmas tree. And for that reason, this film is disingenuine and subversively negative to Christmas. The heart of the story is that people need to believe in Santa in order to rediscover the innocence or goodness within themselves, the exact opposite of the truth. This is symbolized in the idea of singing out of your heart, as in Christmas Carols. And even then, they don’t sing real Christmas Carols. Maybe Santa could have given recognition to the true meaning by noticing a manger under a tree with even a slight nod, or the people could have sung true Christmas Carols as the expression of their “belief” rather than a Santa carol as they did in the movie. Even something as small as that would have been redeeming to the story. But no, we are slaves to postmodern fideism. Believe in a “good lie” is the solution in this film. Believe in Santa. The power is in the subject of belief, not the object of belief. It doesn’t matter that something is false, if it helps us accomplish the good. Let us do evil that good may come. Believe! Believe! Believe! — Just NOT in Jesus. And don’t even get me going on the Easter Bunny…
Not Recommended. This movie is mostly about lust, actually. It’s central themes are that love is all around us, and that we must communicate to one another our love or suffer in uneccessary misery. I think the reason why it is an ensemble piece is precisely to convey this idea that there is a lot of love going on and we need to see it (a positive note in a post-911 world. The narrator even mentions 911 in the Voiceover). Unfortunately, there are so many stories going on that it is rather unsatisfying and confusing at times. Now I don’t disagree with the themes, I just think that the stories they chose to communicate these themes reveal a rather shallow understanding of love as, yet again a Romantic idolatry of passion over purity. Here they are:
1. Alan Rickman plays a business man who is tempted by his seductress secretary, while his wife, played brilliantly (as always) by Emma Thompson, deals with discovering it. The interesting thing about this story is that he never gets to the infidelity, he merely begins flirting with it and takes a first step. Emma discovers the first step and they have to struggle with this in their marriage. Actually, a good story, and it ends a bit open-ended which is not bad in and of itself, except that most of the marriage stories in this tale do not have the happy endings, thus giving a subversive negative feeling about marriage itself. Would have been a great opportunity of having a man choosing the right thing and growing in his love. But there is a sense of the reality of such struggles that I think was good. It’s just that movies ARE NOT REALITY, they are about how reality SHOULD BE. SO, it would have been better to show the guy struggling, making a bad choice, but then making the right choice and being better for it. Nothing wrong with temptation and even failure in movies, just show us redemption or what good choices can accomplish. Reinforce good values, not negative ones.
2. Colin Firth plays a married man who discovers his wife is committing adultery with his brother, so he moves out and gets a place in the country where he can write a book. He ends up falling in love with his Portugese cleaning woman, in one of the only good stories here. They do not speak a common language, but through subtitles we discover that they think about and talk about the very same things to each other without knowing about it. In other words, they are of the same mind and heart, and are therefore made for each other and don’t know it. Great and good old fashioned love story.
3. Another unknown-to-me actor, Billy Nighy, plays an aged grandfather of rock and roll who has a comeback with a remake of his Christmas hit, “Love is all around.” It is a very relevant and original story in that he is the only one who really speaks the truth about his façade life of lonely selfishness to radio DJs and television shows, and gets rich over it, and no one even cares about the fact that he is speaking the truth about the emptiness of it all. In fact, people get embarrassed and try to ignore it, another clever and original way of showing how we do not face our need for real love. What is great about his story is that it is the realization that he was unaware of the true friendship that he had with his manager while being immersed in so much “Hollywood” fake love. At the end he makes the right choice to express his loving friendship (not homosexuality) with his abused manager and is a better man for it. Great story, great moral.
4. Two actors who I do not know play a couple of stand-ins for porn movies. They fall in “love” with each other while standing in on set faking sex acts for the lighting and camera men to get their equipment set for the real stars. This story alone, while highly original, is entirely inappropriate and worth scrapping the movie because of it’s gratuitous eye-closing scenes. In a way, it shows the dehumanization of sexuality in porn, and how sex can be separated from love, but in another way, it actually devalues the sacredness of sexuality by having fun with it.
5. High Grant plays the newly instituted Prime Minister who falls in love with one of his low class maids who lives in a “dingey” part of London, and who has a fowl mouth that illustrates that lack of upbringing. Well, this is supposed to be a Cinderella story, but in fact, it was also unsatisfying because quite frankly, I considered the maid as unworthy of the pursuit, not because she was low class, but because she showed no character quality that transcended her low class and made her worthy. Beauty alone is a shallow and immature understanding of love which made this story unappealing.
6. Liam Neeson plays the widowed dad of a 9 year old who discovers his son is struggling under the misery of first love himself. Well, this is all rather cute in placing the existential angst of love into the mouth of a child, but again it was a rather unfulfilling story because 9 year olds cannot truly understand love and it is quite inappropriate to encourage this idea, which continues to push the inevitable sexuality of relationships to younger and younger ages. The father is shown connecting with his son and helping him to overcome his shyness, but again this otherwise good attempt to show father/son relationship is actually subversive because it creates the illusion of maturity in youth that simply does not exist, which fosters the lie that kids are their own people who have the right to make their own decisions in life, you know, “rights of the child” and all that agenda that is the attempt to overthrow the authority of parents over their children by making kids out to be “little adults.”
7. Keira Knightly plays a newly married woman who discovers her husband’s best friend does not actually hate her, as she supposes, but is in love with her and therefore too ashamed to face her and tell her. A good premise with a bad conclusion. He finally has the “guts” to reveal to her his undying love under the nose of her husband and she kisses him, leaving us with another ambiguous ending. This was entirely inappropriate and left me with another dissatisfied feeling, making the movie 4 to 3 in favor of bad love stories. I have no problem with having some divergent conclusions to show the negative and positive responses to truth, but if the positive does not outweigh the negative by enough, the resultant feeling one leaves with is not positive, but negative.
8. Laura Linney plays a woman who is so obsessed with taking care of her mentally handicapped brother in a hospital that it gets in the way of her finding her own love. She is always loving and giving to her brother who calls her all the time, and when she finally finds a guy who likes her and goes to bed with her, she is interrupted by yet another meaningless phone call by her brother with an imaginary problem. She chooses to fly to the immediate aid of her brother again rather than give the love interest attention, and thereby loses the relationship. I think this might be interpreted one of two ways: either you see it as a subversive anti-family story that shows that when you make your family the most important, regardless of their dysfunction, then you ruin your own chances at life and love. Or secondly, that sometimes familial love is just as powerful and legitimate as romantic love. Considering the context of the entire movie, I think it is the former, and therefore a negative love story.
Not Really Recommended. I love Coen Brothers’ movies for their characters and unpredictable stories, and usually with rather moral themes, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? And Fargo. And this story has the usual interesting Coen characters and bizarre plot. But unfortunately, it falls apart. It’s about a sleazy divorce attorney, played by Clooney, who is hired to help a philandering husband to keep his riches from the hands of his divorcing wife played by Zeta-Jones. Well, Clooney falls for Jones and starts his pursuit of her. Turns out she is just as sleazy of a person who marries men to bilk them of their money so she can live a pampered life. Well, the Clooney character doesn’t care, he goes after anyway her until she captures him and takes him for all he has. SO the story sets up a great tragedy that even has references to a lot of Greek things in the script. They eat at a place called, Nero’s, they end up at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, etc. But, at the end of the story, just after Clooney is tricked by the conniving Jones, and is about to get his due from her, she pulls a complete turn around and falls for him. Unfortunately, this does not fit the story at all and has the effect of an arbitrary happy Hollywood ending. No reason for it. The characters are set up as total sleaze bags and then for no reason at all, they just change and become loving sacrificial lovers? NOT BELIEVABLE. It was jarring and came out of nowhere and was not germane to the characters or story. Really unsatisfying. A Greekish tragedy/Hollywood Ending is a double-minded two-faced story. This movie is a cheat.