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   best and worst of the Kaufman oeuvre
Tuesday, March 23 2004

Our new friends from a quarter mile up the road, the ones Gretchen knew in Brooklyn who moved here completely by coincidence, came over this evening for leftover tart. Since the apartment they are renting used to be a meat locker, I have decided to call them The Refrigerator People.
The four of us all went out together to see the movie The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck. Ms. RP hadn't been to Upstate Films since she was a student at Bard College, so going back was weird in the same way it would be weird to return to your high school and hang out in the locker-lined hallway as an adult.
I'd read good things about Eternal Sunshine, but I've had mixed luck with Charlie Kaufman movies. Being John Malkovich is one of my favorite movies of all time, but Adaptation and Human Nature seemed repetitive and/or rotten with self-worship. With Eternal Sunshine, it seemed we got the best and worst of the Kaufman oeuvre. On the one hand, it presents an intriguing picture of a world where memories can be erased by specialists (but there's no certainty we won't repeat our mistakes). On the other other, certain points are hammered on with a relentlessness of repetition that made me yawn and stretch and wonder when it was all going to end (despite the frenzied onscreen activity). Instead of endless orchid closeups (Adaptation) we're treated to one scene after another in which our hero and his love interest are running through a landscape of vanishing features, escaping the erasure happening around them in the brain. If this had been presented with concision, the movie would have been much better.
Stylistically, it had much to love, particularly the hilarious sampling of the Matrix, where professionals in the real world hook clients up to a device and systematically destroy their memories while they dream a poigniant alternate reality of love and loss. Typical of a Kaufman movie, the people tasked with actually doing the memory erasing are scruffy, dissillusioned workers. Work sucks, and to make it suck less, they've developed coping mechanisms familiar to anyone who has ever punched a snooze button. They might have to stay up all night erasing some pathetic loser's memories, but they take advantage of their lack of supervision by smoking pot, drinking beer, dancing, screwing, and even picking up chicks in conventionally underhanded ways.

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