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Featured article revloving around ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND – for which you can read an intern example report on the script HERE A featured film article from the WriteMovies archive first published September 2006 by Kevin Biggers.


Getting Gondry

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

by Kevin Biggers

First off, understand that Eternal Sunshine is not a Michel Gondry film. Secondly, listen to the words of the man himself, who we caught up recently in Los Angeles.By Kevin BiggersTo understand Michel Gondry is to understand the infinitude of yourself.

What this means, precisely, is that in order to understand a filmmaker who indulges in and so effervescently promulgates the idea of the imagination as the only way to cope with the absurdity of life, one must delve into their own imagination, explore it to gain an empathetic vantage point, and then understand that it is here that the infinite self – the one Kierkegaard mused about- resides.

And for as many people who like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there are only a few who liked it for its Gondry-esque conceits, and consequently, there will be only a few who extract the full visceral and imaginative value of Gondry’s latest film, The Science of Sleep. I don’t mean to be the querulous voice of dissonance and reprobation, but it’s true. Just check Rotten Tomatoes for the evidence: no one can discuss The Science of Sleep without comparing it to Eternal Sunshine; and most address this with certain glumness in Sleep’s “smallness” compared with its predecessor.

And here is where we can see the most callous aspect of the human condition vis-à-vis the Gondry sensibility. Eternal Sunshine is a Charlie Kaufman film (sorry fellow Gondryites). There’s no way around this. Check the replays. Essentially, this is this downfall of its critical evaluation and will be the downfall of its audience reception, not because Eternal Sunshine was such a salient and lasting example of Gondry’s artistic hand, but because invariably everyone who passes the word about Gondry’s latest inevitably will squash any bemusement over the identity of the director with, “He’s the guy who directed Eternal Sunshine.”

And thus, the expectations are set, though arguably, not at a higher level, but on a different plane. Kaufman films are steeped in reality despite their mind-bending premises – whether it is a door into John Malkovich’s perspective or a memory-erasing clinic – because these machinations of Kaufman’s imagination serve as conduits for each film’s thematic intentions, each of these premises serves as function of reality. If these things existed in a Gondry film, there’d be no reason to point them out or demarcate them from the rest of reality, there’d be no surprised look on Jim Carrey or John Cusack’s faces, because, well, Gondry’s reality allots for the reality of the imagination.

And it’s in my estimation that this is where much of the derision will reside in the audience – i.e. the most callous aspect of the human condition. In any fiction writing workshop, just try workshopping anything set in a world split in the world of reality and the imagination. You’ll be met with everything from, “This doesn’t make sense,” to, “This couldn’t possibly happen in the real world,” to, “Things like this don’t happen,” to, “This is all just too self-indulgent.”

You’ll be admonished from ever doing anything like that again. No one is ready for their own imagination, much less your imagination. Infinity is reckless and depressing and hopeless, just ask any Camus scholar. People prefer the Hegelian-Cartesian cogito ergo sum world, where reality rules and everything outside this circle of quantification, withers in its inability to express itself.

After recently speaking with Gondry about his latest film, I am surer of this than ever. To start, he says, “When I work with other people, I have to use words. It’s more limiting to the process to have to convey my ideas that way. If you want to create something hoping it will go beyond yourself, you can’t question every step of the process. It may seem contradictory, but the fact that I’m the only one to make the decisions allows me to have less control of things.”

“I want my instinct to be more in control and my intellect to be less in control,” he adds, “allowing me to have ideas, images, and concepts without having to justify why.”

The Science of Sleep is Gondry’s first foray in the role of both screenwriter and director, and because of this, the film is entirely Gondry in texture – a sort of glowing, fantastical, surrealistic, cartoonish, whimsical, lonely-roller-coaster ride. Since the only way to attain such a dizzying and abstract milieu is to peruse your heart, your soul, and your imagination, and rip out whatever you can, such things often tend to seem self-indulgent. After all, this is a guy who, when he first started directing English-speaking music videos, didn’t have a firm grip on the language, and thus studied the rhythms and the music palpitations to formulate his ideas and images.

“Nothing is gratuitous,” says Gondry of his latest work. “There’s no intellectual explanation, the people who will like this film will take their own experience to explain this film.”

“I don’t think the project was selfish,” the French filmmaker insists. “I’m trying to do the best movie I can, and I think the best thing that I could talk about was me.” Then, concerning Sleep’s ending, he adds, “For a while, I wanted to express my anger and frustration through it. Initially I didn’t think they could be together, but I wanted to have hope for myself. I wanted to have as happy of an ending as it could be.” (Note: this is in no way a spoiler; you’ll see what I mean.)

“It’s easier now because people trust me,” Gondry suggests. “Sometimes they trust me more than I trust myself. Initially it was difficult because sometimes I have a very convoluted way for something that can be done simply.”

Gondry, 43, has made a living off this kind of artistic instantiation. For the first third of his career hitherto, Gondry spent a relatively great deal of time translating Björk’s opulent voice into ethereally Jurassic landscape of humanly animals, with the Icelandic singer’s voice serving as a forlorn peripatetic. Also, somewhere in this time period, Gondry took the simple experience of attending a live Rolling Stones gig, and allowing it to explode onto the screen, slowing down the temporal quality and allowing the dizzying dimensionality of the experience to be explored, using his bullet-time technique, which has been used ad nauseam since then, most notably in The Matrix in the scene where Neo dodges bullets.

For the second third of his career hitherto, Gondry divided his time amongst a plethora of artistically driven musicians, commercials, and The White Stripes, whose commitment to and trust in Gondry is only matched by that of the aforementioned Björk. It’s here that Gondry refined his instantiating hand – e.g. creating Jack White’s rue for love lost into a magic stop-action maelstrom of the band, constructed out of Legos, rushing around the frame – and in doing so, made himself an object of artistic splendor and great intrigue.

And now in the final third of his career hitherto, Gondry is dabbling here and there with music videos, though, as seen in his stodgy collaboration with Kanye West, his mind is elsewhere, most pointedly, his mind seems to be most concerned with his full-length features. Let’s forget Human Nature as we inevitably will decades from now when discussing the Gondry oeuvre.

And, for the sake of my own sanity, let’s push Eternal Sunshine aside, because, for myself and for my fellow Gondryites, The Science of Sleep will mark the beginning of Gondry, the full-length feature filmmaker. For a 43-year-old, Gondry puts forth an extremely boyish façade – coquettishly clay-like cheeks, distracted blue eyes, mussed curly hair – and at times this seems to match his words.

When I ask him if it disconcerts him a bit that people will view the protagonist of his latest film, a facsimile of Gondry played by Gael Garcia Bernal, as childish in his overly exuberant, quasi-stalkerish attempts for romance, he answers, “Those people are boring.”

He expands, “It’s about adolescent love, kid love, but when you fall in love with somebody, that’s what drives us, that’s what makes you so happy or so miserable, so I think I’m doing a movie about that.”

However, sometimes, the filmmaker is so cerebral about his mind’s creations, which seems like a paradox. He explains his recording of his dreams, “Well, generally, I wake up, I recount the dream, I may very quickly think about how it came from me, where these elements came from, what memories, it’s more a coincidence, more a present, the dream state is so different from this conversation, I would have to spend lots of time, maybe I should take my notebooks, I realize how they combine, like this part of the dreams reminds me of this memory and this part of this memory and these two are connected, but this doesn’t explain it, it comes right out of the blue.”

Towards the end of the interview, which by the way is taking place in a room over the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel courtyard, where preparation for a wedding is also underway, Gondry, likely worn down from a twelve-hour day, in which he was the sole focus of a press assault, begins to let his interior child roam around. Cue the wedding music.

“What is this f*cking music?” he bellows. “I hope it’s not going on for the whole night. If there’s a wedding going on I’m going to kill myself.”

A PR person explains that the wedding is only going through rehearsal. “Yeah, but if there’s a wedding tonight, they might party all night.” He turns to me, “I’m a bad sleeper. It’s like dying in some ways.”

I conclude the interview, a more peaceful tête-à-tête than the above anecdote evinces, by asking, regardless of the ending, about his current disposition. I expect some complex, labyrinthine, digressive explanation of his daily thoughts and his nightly dreams. After all, earlier he mentioned that the previous night’s dream consisted of 300 prostitutes invading his apartment.

He pauses, takes a sip of tea, and looks to the side, and then at me, “I’m happy. I’m not the most balanced person. But I feel I’m doing pretty good for me.”

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