A forlorn man wants to erase the memory of his ex-lover, and the pseudo-scientific process is depicted through him traversing the desaturated hallways of his own mind, like Poe splattered with white-out ink. A gifted chauffeur-cum-ninja whoops the ass of several baddies through the very visual process of “Kato Vision,” a mix of Predator-like targeting and shoot ‘em up game logic that shifts speed and perspective like great acid. A Sharpie-drawn dog runs in circles to illustrate conceptual theory. A man’s stitched, felt pony comes to life through the power of dreams. A marching band proudly carries the beat as Kanye West pops “Jesus Walks” on the mic.
Who other than Michel Gondry could achieve such eclectic images?
A commercial and video wunderkind, Gondry’s transition to the silver screen was one initially met with puzzlement. Who is this French aesthete with wacky cuts, herky-jerky musicalia, and paper-mâché trinkets? Seventeen years since his debut, Human Nature, Michel Gondry is now an Academy Award-winning visualist and a cult entity admired for his ceaseless heart and imagination. But here’s the thing – he’s not just an eclectic. Gondry’s films above all else are about love, creation, curiosity, and the human desire to see the world a little differently.
As Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind turns 15 this week, Consequence of Sound is looking back at the feature films of Michel Gondry, reflecting on his knack for offbeat sounds and images. Ground rules: music videos, shorts, and other parts of Gondry’s impressive list of credits will be covered elsewhere. In the end, we hope you’ll find this retrospective to be, trés magnifique?
11. The Green Hornet (2011)
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz
Plot: Britt Reid (Rogen). A total brat. Publishing heir with an affinity for partying. But inevitably he becomes a hero and dons a duster and mask under the alias “Green Hornet.” With his trusty aide Kato (Chou), Brit becomes an ersatz Tony Stark, fighting crime one screw-up at a time.
Music, Video: Gondry struggles to breathe under the confines of studio filmmaking here, but for what it’s worth, the soundtrack slays (Van Halen and Rolling Stones montages are the definition ‘guilty pleasures’), and James Newton Howard’s score is mostly traditional until it sneaks in some punchy rhythmic goods.
Father of Invention: The Black Beauty, hands down. The movie’s just so giddily aware of what a boy toy Hornet’s car is.
Think Visual: 3D studio filmmaking in the wake of Avatar, ladies and gentlemen. Gondry was forced to play with studio upcharge ideas here, and it’s an odd mix of Gondry’s vibe colliding with standard studio mayhem. But there’s cool stuff within. Cascading perspective shots, creamy and crude fights, and some flowy slow-motion.
Can’t Cage him: Nicolas Cage was originally cast as Chudnosfky, the film’s villain. He dropped out after proposing he play the character with a Jamaican accent, which didn’t sit well with Gondry. Shame. Well…
Green Hornets: The property floated around Hollywood for years with bigs like Eddie Murphy and George Clooney and Jake Gyllenhaal being involved as far back as 1992. Eventually, after Kevin Smith dropped out around 2008, Seth Rogen wrote a draft that got momentum enough for a 2011 release. God only knows what the pre-production costs look like on this.
The Gondry Eye: Gondry’s best visual touch on this film is Kato-vision. It’s the most fun this movie gets. Well, that and the split car. Kato-vision is like a fun, more playable version of Bay and Bruckheimer.
Verdict: The critical verdict was swift and decisive. (Even mean, to be honest.) But also kinda fair. Green Hornet was an off and often clunky star vehicle for Seth Rogen that smelled of studio anxiety. It strives to make something above its action-comedy cliché and has enough style, cartoonishness, and creative imagery to get viewers to the end. But it’s often an exhausting effort. Best thing you can say: One wonders what another pure Hollywood effort might look like from Gondry. –Blake Goble
10. The Thorn in the Heart (2009)
Cast: Suzette Gondry, Michel Gondry, Jean-Yives Gondry
Plot: Michael Gondry chronicles the life and times of his aunt Suzette and her relationship with her son Jean-Yves. In time, secrets about the reclusive Jean-Yves’ sexuality and artistic aspirations are revealed. And Michel interviews his aunt with a loving eye, as we hear of her years teaching, her spontaneity, and her passion for showing movies.
Music, Video: Does the film’s trains – station photography and toy recreations – remind anyone of the “Star Guitar” video? Is Gondry really into cabooses?
Father of Invention: Gondry is not making anything here. But he does use toy trains as a transitional device, fitting of Gondry’s visual witticisms.
Think Visual: There’s some funny projection and train stuff within. But at one point, Gondry and family beat the tar out of a stuck wheelchair. Trying to open and close it. The viewer assumes the chair is for Suzette. Nuh-uh. She asks what the chair is for, and Gondry explains: it’s a way to film her walking and talking with Gondry on the cheap. Roger Corman would be proud.
$17,849: That is precisely how much money this movie made at the box office. Worldwide! Arts, media, and entertainment writers make more than that yearly. Kevin Spacey movies in 2018, however, make less. Just pointing this all out.
Can Cannes: Thorn in the Heart was screened at Cannes, but didn’t win any awards. What? You were gonna ask, and this bit of trivia saved a trip to IMDB.
The Gondry Eye: The movie’s look is plain. Testimonials, with occasional cutaways. Something abot the cutaways to 4:3 home movies feels so decidedly uh, Gondry, in their use. Old film of Suzette would seem like an easy move for any other filmmaker, but Gondry caresses and presents the footage lovingly.
Verdict: Thorn in the Heart can feel a little home movie. Laugh-heavy meals, cutesy recreations of events past. It’s like Gondry attempting to make his own Italianamerican, with insight into his culture, his heritage, and the notion of motherly love. But in a less obvious sense, Gondry’s interested in memory and how it affects storytelling. (Granted, his quasi-thesis on maternal relations gets sidelined as a result.) But even when the film feels a little lax, or unclear, Gondry’s adoration and intrigue with his family is what carries the intimate project. Not essential. Challenging, too. But curious all the same. –Blake Goble
09. Human Nature (2001)
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Rosie Perez
Plot: A love triangle evolves between a neurotic scientist (Robbins), a hirsute conservationist (Arquette), and a man raised in the forest like an ape (Ifans). Did we mention Charlie Kaufman wrote this? Yeah, making more sense now, huh?
Music, Video: Björk, we thank thee. Gondry cribbed on some of his natural imagery used in Björk videos of all things. Seriously. There are shades of “Human Behaviour” and “Bachelorette” in Human Nature. Gondry has a penchant for the woods, cabins, and interior spaces in both his debut and his Björk efforts that’s too similar to ignore.
Father of Invention: Tim Robbins’ Dr. Bronfman is teaching mice table manners. Ridiculous, yes. But see how many views a video of mice eating tiny food can get? The point being, mouse utensils are amazing, and we love them in this movie.
Think Visual: Gondry appeals to shabby science and crudely constructed sets in a way that feels like an early attempt at putting his aesthetic out there. Just look at the admittedly un-scientific setup here that Bronfman uses to train the monkey man, Ifans.
Considering Kaufman: Kaufman’s script floated a while, attracting talent like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Jonze. Jonze was close, Fine Line wanted him, and he suggested Michel Gondry in his place. A film career is born.
Duff Debut: This is Hillary Duff’s screen debut of all things. Hannah Montana with a hair problem. Hey, when someone asks, “What was Hillary Duff’s first movie?” You’ll know.
The Gondry Eye: There’s something serene about Arquette’s furried, naked singing in the forest that feels like it could have carried an entire Gondry music video. Abnormally tracked, artificially staged, and yet it’s surreal and beautiful in its primal simplicty. Through obvious fakery, more humane emotions become strangely tangible. That’s Gondry’s gift of blending right there.
Verdict: It can feel a little static or attention deficit on the first watch, but Human Nature’s fun upon re-visitation. Perhaps a little ahead of itself in terms of understanding Gondry and Kaufman’s intentions, Human Nature takes curious approaches to evolution, romance, death, life, electrolysis, and fine dining. A worthwhile find and a show of Gondry’s promise. –Blake Goble
08. Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Cast: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Sigourney Weaver
Plot: After being magnetized, store clerk Jerry (Jack Black) erases all of his rental store’s tapes. Panicked, he and his co-worker Mike (Mos Def) opt to recreate all their movies in low-rent fashion, becoming local stars. We’re talking Ghostbusters, Robocop, Driving Miss Daisy, and more on a shoestring. Cuz fuck the FBI warning.
Music, Video: The shorts are music video-like in their expediency and rhythm. Like, the Ghostbusters recreation is more fun than the actual Ray Parker Jr. video.
Father of Invention: Dude, Gondry remade Kubrick’s rotational shots from 2001 with what looks like … the inside tube of a dryer???
Think Visual: “Sweding.” It’s the term this film coined for threadbare recreations of zapped flicks. It comes from an argument in the movie. A fib on Mike and Jerry’s part, as they exclaim that their knock-off films are pricier to rent because they’re allegedly from Sweden. Elaborate! But the term stuck. Go to YouTube in 2008 and you could find gallons of “Sweded” parodies of favorite films. Hell, go back two years:
Fair Use: The film exists in this curious gray area of fair and legal use between parody and homage. While films are directly mentioned, licensing and usage was still mediated and cased by a legal team. Example: Ghostbusters could be goofed, but Jack Black had to wing the theme song’s lyrics because the movie didn’t get rights to the Ray Parker jam.
Fanatic: Not only did Gondry Swede the trailer for Be Kind Rewind; he Swedes for fun. Just watch his ode to Taxi Driver.
The Gondry Eye: There’s something so crudely beautiful about Jack Black and Mos Def running down the steps of a library with tinsel and tin foil. Like kids playing make-believe, excited to pretend. Like, you know, the feel-good spirit of making movies and stuff.
Verdict: Easy-going and likeable, Be Kind Rewind is jolly (even if you wind up fast-forwarding to the good parts). A decent excuse for Gondry’s can-do, in-camera inventions – not to mention film fandom – the “Sweding” was this film’s accidental touchstone. It’s fun to love a movie, and Gondry’s reasonably sincere about that here. So even when the movie lags, or loses focus, we don’t feel rooked because Gondry pours a lot into his homages. –Blake Goble
07. The We and the I (2012)
Cast: Michael Brodie, Jonathan Scott Worell, Ladychen Carrasco, Teresa Lynn, and more in a diverse cast of non-actors
Plot: Last day of school. South Bronx. Kids on the MTA bus shoot the shit, confront one another, and learn a bit about themselves along the ride in a micro-portrait of youth. Cruelty to the elderly. Smashed guitars. Loves lost and found via poems and crude interactions. Micro vignettes in the vein of Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused, but even more contemporary.
Music, Video: While this shares modest similarities with Gondry’s Earthier video forays, there’s something undeniably ‘80s about Gondry’s vibe here – and that has a lot to do with the soundtrack. Slick Rick, Run-D.M.C., and tons of Young MC appear and populate the atmosphere. We and the I is real 1985 like that. At least, hip-hop prevails until Boards of Canada show up.
Father of Invention: That boom box bus is so dope. Blasting Young MC? Radio Shack gonna sell these?
Think Visual: Even the surreal stuff – daydreaming about night clubs, beatings by grannies, yacht parties – feel rooted in the real. Gondry switches to cell camera as if to suggest social media culture and how these teens idealize their lives to maximum Like-potential. It’s a modestly nifty conceit.
School bus: There’s no set trickery here. Gondry shot guerilla-style with a camera and boom inside a real MTA bus. How verité.
The Real World: Gondry built this project over several years, accumulating actual stories from his amateur cast. For example, Brandon Diaz and Luis Figueroa’s heart-breaking relationship in the film? Really happened, and Gondry emboldened and shared this.
The Gondry Eye: There’s at least a three-hour seminar involved in unpacking this image of a teenage boy wearing a girl’s wig. Race. Class. Gender. Whimsy. Gondry’s socioeconomic lens of the world. Now accepting applications.
Verdict: Shot on location, using limited artificial devices, We and the I is very much an urban slice of life. Which comes with troubles for sure. The movie’s capable of being unpleasant and mean – teenagers are mean as hell – but it can’t be called dishonest. In 2012, this was likely antidote for Gondry after the highly commercial Green Hornet, and Gondry shows his chops for making nothing feel like everything. A bus ride. But it’s the most comprehensive, busy, and life-changing bus ride you ever saw. There’s drama in dates, drinking, beefs, kissing(!), and more in the life of teens. Friends swap. Feelings flatten and flip. And Gondry’s patient enough to stare. –Blake Goble
06. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)
Cast: Noam Chomsky, Michel Gondry
Plot: Linguistic/science/art/social critic/super genius Noam Chomsky sits down with Michel Gondry to discuss his life’s work, insights, and philosophies in conversational fashion. Well, a conversation inasmuch as Gondry refuses to simply share video of the talk. The director illustrates the entire conversation through illustrations on a slide transparency in doodle form. Try-hard (love it).
Music, Video: Off the top of the head – ever see Gondry’s Living Sisters video for “How Are You Doing?” Check out the opening illustrations for a parallel to his work on this doc. Then imagine him going whole hog with Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.
Father of Invention: Gondry didn’t invent the movie camera. But he sure loves its power, and one of the secret weapons in his arsenal is his old home camera. It’s how he sees things, and helps the conversation here. At one point, he stops using digital video and insists on using an old home camera.
Think Visual: Imagine the most impressive handbook you ever did saw. The fact that Gondry hand-draws every last image in this documentary almost makes you feel guilty if you don’t pay it the attention it deserves.
Cheaters: In one of the film’s sweeter moments, Chomsky and Gondry admit to cheating as children and how it shaped their perceptions of honesty. Partners in crime.
French-born, Brookyln-bred: Gondry made this project in his free time while editing The Green Hornet. Shooting and chopping and illustrating out of his apartment in Brooklyn. It’s impressive what a guy like Gondry can achieve when some of us can barely muster the strength to clean our apartments.
The Gondry Eye: Mid-film, Gondry expresses frustration in his need to convey and communicate an idea with Chomsky, only for the scholar to refute and somewhat downplay Gondry’s words and efforts. This results in a maddening, hand-written confessional that only an individual like Gondry could get away with. Without being called ‘self-indulgent.’ It’s admirable.
Verdict: Every last college lecturer should see this. The act of conversation driven by curiosity and a need for understanding takes on this vivacious life through Gondry’s eager and honest eyes. Chomsky, as reading, is hard. Damn hard. And Gondry admits this. Especially as a Frenchman whose native tongue makes it harder for him to convey. It’s heady: social psychology, semiotics, tree branches and donkeys as metaphors ad-nauseum. But it’s so game and enthusiastic you actually come away feeling a little more learned and appreciative. Plus, Gondry’s animation of dogs running in circles or brains honey-combing though thoughts or just how much time Gondry spends illustrating trees to make a point is something to admire. (Or take LSD before watching.) Unexpectedly required reading. –Blake Goble
05. The Science of Sleep (2006)
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Emma de Caunes
Plot: A gentle animator (Bernal) with endless ideas and dreams of creating a “disasterology” calendar is met with continued disappointment when he returns home to France to discover that his new job is a tedious bore, nobody understands him, and he has no idea how to win over the attractive neighbor(s) next door. Soon, his daydreams and fantasies begin to collide with reality in increasingly uncontrollable ways as he tries to find love and stay sane.
Music, Video: Sure, his classic video for Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World” isn’t anywhere near as whimsically surreal as The Science of Sleep, but it’s one of those cases where Gondry was messing around with the razor-thin lines between fantasy and reality, years before he further explored those ideas in cinematic form. As the video loops in and out on itself, it forms a kind of narrative Moebius strip while remaining consistently playful.
Father of Invention: Bernal’s Stéphane is an inventor, albeit not one in the traditional sense. One of his most innovative, and poignant, creations is a “one-second time machine,” which allows the operator to travel backwards, if only for just one moment. It’s a microcosm of the film: constantly chasing something inarticulable, but which you already miss the second it goes away.
Think Visual: Where do you even start with the visual innovations of a film like this one? We’ll go with Stéphane’s giant hands, triggered by a fit of outrage and influenced visually by a recurring nightmare of Gondry’s. Like the best of Gondry’s work, the sequence takes an all-too-familiar sensation (insecurity about a burgeoning new relationship) and escalates it to cartoonish, hysterical effect.
Home is Where the Heart Is: Gondry apparently lived in the film’s central apartment building about 15 years before directing Sleep, which only strengthens the pervasive sense throughout that this may be the closest thing to a personal/biographical feature of a kind that we’ll ever see out of the filmmaker.
Get These Hands: Those giant hands we mentioned a second ago? They may be mined for a particular kind of emotional resonance here, but it’s not the first time Gondry has used that device, even in context of a dream. Jump back to his video for Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, and you’ll see them pop up again.
The Gondry Eye: His visualization of Stéphane attempting to emotionally connect through a series of dog costumes and an infinitely scrolling script is both lovely and a pure visualization of so much of Gondry’s perception of how art is made. Start with raw, confusing, messy emotion. Add handmade objects. Continue to grow the scene until you can’t even remember what reality started off looking like in the first place.
Verdict: The Science of Sleep is the kind of Michel Gondry movie that people only loosely familiar with his work would immediately think about. From the childhood craft aesthetics to the occasionally painful explorations of male selfishness, Gondry uses some of his most fanciful imagery in any of his films to explore the ways in which falling in love with somebody can inhibit one from seeing the object of their desires as a person with their own feelings and needs and inner life. It’s every bit as scatterbrained a film as its protagonist, but therein lies the charm. It’s a film about how living inside dreams can’t become a permanent state, and more importantly, that it shouldn’t. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
04. Microbe & Gasoline (2015)
Cast: Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Diane Besnier, Audrey Tatou
Plot: Daniel (Ange Dargent) is the smallest kid in his class, with long hair that confuses others into thinking he’s a girl. Nickname: “Microbe.” Théo (Théophile Baquet) is the new kid in class, brash and over-confident, with a knack for engineering. Nickname: “Gasoline.” Together, the amiable outsiders design a house car and take to the open road across France running away from their troubles.
Music, Video: Once again, Gondry dabbles in the au naturel, but with the faintest twists of absurdism layered atop. Best example that helps explain the direction? The White Stripes’ “Hardest Button to Button” video by Gondry.
Father of Invention: Like Green Hornet, it’s the car. It’s gotta be the car! Gondry engineered this amazing house-shaped four-wheeler that can camouflage the boy’s secret journey while doubling as an extended metaphor about the foundations of their bond and troubled homelives. Or something literary like that. Point being, we’d pay top dollar for this puppy and take it off the lot today if we could.
Think Visual: What’s curious is how unfussy and uncluttered the visuals are here. Sure, the boys dabble in junkyard imagination and doodle art, but it’s grounded. Gondry sees the story through in almost Truffaut-like fashion, naturalistically with limited and mindful breaks from reality. It’s a car on wheels, but a wobbly, shabbily, amazingly assembled work that carries the boys and in essence, this movie.
Note From Teacher: Gondry admitted he was inspired by Diane Kurys’s Peppermint Soda and the 1953 classic The Little Fugitive. The director didn’t want a heightened reality, and something more naturalistic in terms of lensing with limited camera, and capturing academic texture. Take that, John Hughes.
No storyboard: When interviewed, Gondry admitted that storyboards have always been an obsessive means of directing for him in prior projects. Less so here. He was worried it would over-direct his two stars, and he wanted something a little more easy-going. Only took him 14 years to loosen up, right?
The Gondry Eye: There’s something so telling, and Gondry in its heightened reality, about the two boys dressed as old men at a party, lost among their peers and other youth.
Verdict: This is Gondry at his most minute and muted, and ironically, that’s what makes this effort stick out in Gondry’s filmography. Amidst a career of films stuffed with mise-en-scene to the max, Microbe and Gasoline sees the auteur scaling back, making an intimate and honest coming-of-age story. It’s affecting in its simplicity, and the leads are terrific salesmen as Gondry shares ideas on friendship, the complicated feelings of adolescence, and the strange thing kids do when forced to get out of their comfort zone.
Also, Gondry if you’re reading – please contact this writer about the house car. Will make best offer! –Blake Goble
03. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2014)
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, Yasiin Bey, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, The Roots, and a whole mess of other musicians
Plot: Over one hot mid-September day in Brooklyn, circa 2004, Dave Chappelle took a beat away from existing at the center of pop culture to throw a block party and celebrate the simple beauty of pure joy.
Music, Video: The visual and dramatic simplicity of Block Party as a doc means that it steps away a bit from many of Gondry’s hallmarks, but since this features one of the best recorded Kanye performances in existence (more on that momentarily), let’s jump back to Gondry’s video for “Heard ‘Em Say,” which immerses Kanye in some delightful stop-motion animation.
Father of Invention: A megaphone that magically spits out words? Specifically opening credits?
Think Visual: In a way, Block Party feels like a precursor to the kindhearted neighborhood exploration of Be Kind Rewind in a number of ways. While Gondry dials back many of his usual tricks, the warm light and lingering gazes at overjoyed faces in both the crowd and on the stage allows the director to convey something he often hits from far more abstract angles: earnest, sincere human warmth.
Before They Were Stars: You’ll have to look carefully, but keep an eye out for a young J. Cole hanging out in the crowd, enjoying the show with everyone else.
Do It Yourself: In keeping with the spirit of Gondry’s hand-crafted material, Chappelle put up the money for both the artist lineup and the block party himself. Granted, he had it to throw around at this particular moment in time, but still.
The Gondry Eye: There’s something about Block Party that really makes all the small moments of the day pop with remarkable vibrance. Whether it’s the sun-saturated brick of the neighborhood or the lilting blue sky as the day reaches its end, Gondry brings his characteristic knack for color to even what’s basically a straighforward concert film.
Verdict: Block Party was made shortly before Chappelle famously walked away from his $50 million Comedy Central deal, but it became quite a bit more resonant once he did. It’s a great concert film full of astounding footage, from its Fugees reunion to Kanye West delivering a performance of “Jesus Walks” guaranteed to send chills down the spine. But it’s perhaps best as a chronicle of a comedian in transition from years of hard-hustling stand-up to becoming perhaps the most famous comedian in America, all while attempting to retain some kind of a sense of self. The film may never really answer the question of who Dave Chappelle is or was, but that’s beside the point. It’s a snapshot of who he was, for one day, in this one moment. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
02. Mood Indigo (2013)
Cast: Romain Duris, Audrey Tatou, Omar Sy
Plot: Love be thy name as two young Parisians come to fall for one another in high-styled fashion. Specifically, Colin (Romain Duris), a bacheror, is smitten with Chloé (Audrey Tatou), a woman with a flower growing in her heart.
Music, Video: Gondry pulls every trick out of his sleeve on this. The effortful production design, prop-work, and creative photography is like watching a Best-Of reel from Gondry. Every Google Image result for this movie is epic and gallery ready. Long dancing legs are in this movie and remind one of the “Deadweight” video. A floating cloud-mobile of sorts looks like it could have floated through Gondry’s “Everlong” video and no one would have questioned its inclusion. Hyperbolically, Mood Indigo is like a carousel into Gondry’s mind, the wildest synaptic happenings, and his most creative imagery. Practically? We really like Gondry’s effort here! Maximum Gondry.
Father of Invention: Gondry delights in cakes and carts but there’s something so satisfying about the “Pianocktail”. Harmonic cocktails. A piano that makes drinks from the mood of the music. Few bum notes. Brightly colored delights. Find a mixologist that could pull this off.
Think Visual: Gondry was working at a giddily exaggerated level of invention here, with underwater nuptials, stop-motion car chases to an altar, and more. Cloth hearts, creative cakes, and on ‘n’ on. It’s like Gondry squeezed every last ridiculous vision or literary play or trinket-centric sight gag out of himself on this one. And the effort’s appreciated. Ebullience and adoration collaged and made tactile.
France V. America: Why is the original cut 130 minutes and the American one 90 minutes? We’d like to know. Sincerely, an American writer and his American readers/Gondry fanatics.
Tricky Translation: Now, the title is an entirely American concoction of nice-sounding referential word choices. “Mood Indigo”. A Duke Ellington tune and sensical choice for a title for this when it was released in the U.S. The film mentions the musician a-plenty, and it feels like an easy in for audiences here. But in France, the original title was L’écume des jours, which translates roughly to dream foam, or remnants of daydreams. Meaning, the title in and of itself is like a double lesson in marketing and semiotics.
The Gondry Eye: In movie that is so overwhelmingly about love, there’s something so beauteous about a magical, radiating cloth heart. It’s a huggable image, comfortably textured, excitedly bright, loaded with all the meaning the film wants viewers to grasp.
Verdict: Mood Indigo’s a straight narrative for the most part: crazy love story. But it’s slowly, sensationally brought to screen in some of the most excessively gorgeous ways possible. This is a triumph of style and mood and imagery above any traditional arc. And it’s all in Gondry’s direction and creative decision-making. There’s not a single side-stop Gondry doesn’t take; he insists on taking the hardest, most visual trip possible down to the core of his two lovers, and we welcome every feathery run through tunnels. Each non sequitur and silly idea Gondry serves up in service of this affair. Why not film a wedding underwater? Gondry can, and does it up with an ebullient grace. A late career jolt and reminder of his talents, Mood Indigo will endure. As a fairy tale, a love story, a heart-breaker, and a show of screen strength and creative approaches to staid material as exemplified by Gondry. –Blake Goble
01. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood
Plot: “Why remember a destructive love affair? We have perfected the safe, effective technique for the focused erasure of troubling memories.” – Dr. Howard Mierzwiak
Feeling pain? Wipe your brain. Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) decides to wipe his memories of ex-girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), only to screw up the entire medical procedure and challenge the whole fuzzy notions of love. Fate, free-will, and the complex notions of memory get thrown in the old brain blender as true love – whatever that means for some – finds a way out the other side.
Music, Video: Jon Brion was tasked with scoring on this, and it’s a blend of clinkety sounds and tacky piano that feels like cogwork in the old noggin. And not to hold a grudge, but Beck’s “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometimes” should have been nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars. Yes, we’re well aware that it’s a James Warren tune from 1980, but so what!?
Father of Invention: What’s startling about the memory-erasing machine isn’t just far-flung psych class logistics of it, but just how shabby it looks. It requires two geek doctors to watch like an old furnace and is prone to set-backs and glitches. An amazing device for the many challenges it presents and heady love story it inspires.
Think Visual: Everything you need to know about Gondry can be seen on film here. He has a deep abiding love for gazing with fluttery eyes at the urban, for trinkets, for awkward human interactions. There’s a primary urban fantasy to how he mixes the banal with the fantastic. Effects-enhanced bookstores badly lit to look like they’re fading. Shitty-looking homemade electronics capable of the fantastical. Dorky Tommy opera t-shirts on his leads and colorful hair and grotesque illustrations of pen-made freaks. Down to the dippy, little card acknowledging erasure from Lacuna. All directly in service of this particular story. It’s jagged, to be certain, yet totally whole and connected.
You’ve Been Erased: Back to that note about being erased. Michel Gondry’s friend Pierre Bismuth suggested that idea. What if you got a note telling you that you’d been erased from someone’s memory? Boom! Million dollar movie idea, folks.
Do the Reading: Wanna get an A grade in English this September? Know this: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the title, is a reference to Alexander Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard, a Medieval verse from 1717. It’s a heroic epistle? About suppressed and awakened love? Okay, that doesn’t guarantee a higher grade, or even trivia points, but don’t you feel smarter? Okay, fine, memory erase that, whatever.
The Gondry Eye: God, to simplify analyze any one visual component in this? The leafy forests, the Montauk station’s isolation, the frail patter under bedsheets. Hey, wanna just get emo and talk about Joel and Clem on the ice for a few hours? Sigh, what a sight. Thank you, Michel Gondry. A world of feelings, reeling with emotion over the fragile intimacy of being in love perfected in two lovers on ice. Is it a metaphor for how couples can crack at any moment or how strong these two are swimming above despair? Or simply a pretty picture? Yes, yes. Yes!
Verdict: When Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth worked up this scenario, they brought it to Charlie Kaufman to help give it shape. What came of a deceptively simple idea, erased memory, has blossomed into a modern epic about the fragility and durability of love. Joel and Clem are fraught, destructive, and incapable of loving one another, and yet, we know that they couldn’t be more perfectly paired, warts and all. It’s with a bit of hesistancy that we leave hopeful. We really think that they’ll find their way back to one another. Maybe it’s fate, or maybe it’s just dumb luck that they get to delete the bad parts of their romance, but we are still thinking/debating/arguing/swooning over this.
And Gondry showed his very best talents here, directing with an open-minded sensitivity and desperate curiosity that we’re still studying and picking apart to this day. It takes a nimble mind to make this movie flow as effortlessly as it does and a busy brain to give us so much to explore and re-explore. Eternal Sunshine begs re-watching, even though, somewhat ironically, it’s unforgettable. This is Gondry’s poem on the many indescribable parts that connect our head and our hearts when concocting those funny feelings about love. A new masterpiece. –Blake Goble