movies: March 2004 Archives

Goodbye Lenin

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This afternoon, after a Mexican lunch with Alyson, Lori and I headed over to the Angelika to take in another movie. We saw Goodbye Lenin, a German film that was nowhere near as intricate as ESSM, but a lot of fun all the same. Alex is a young East German guy, treading water in East Berlin, when his mother has a heart attack and goes into a coma. She is a devoted member of the Communist party, and is in the coma for eight months, during which time the Wall collapses and Germany begins the reunification process.

The doctor tells Alex (and Ariane, his sister) that any excitement may cause a second, fatal heart attack, and so they take their mother home, and recreate the DDR in her room. Old, east German products aren't available any longer, so Alex spends his time pouring new Western products into old bottles and jars, and they wear old, thrift shop clothes when they visit their mother. The lie takes on a life of its own, and what follows is a touching story of Alex trying to hold together a vision of East Germany in the face of big personal, national, cultural, and economic change.

Alex is a great character, and the movie itself is often satisfied with subtle touches rather than being explicit about what's going on. I'm not often a big fan of voice-overs, which is how this movie begins, but it all ends up working for me. As Lori and I both thought, the movie runs a little long, but in part, that's because we're too conditioned by the 1:40 that Hollywood hates to violate. All in all, this was a charming movie with a bunch of appealing characters, and I'm glad we had a chance to see it...

Internal Sunshine

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I started to do a conference rundown post, but had to interrupt so that we could leave in time to make it to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Those of you who hang on every word I have to say about CCCC may resent the delay, but not me. ESSM was well worth it. Well worth it.

Like Derek, I'm not sure why I was supposed to be disappointed in the ending--in fact, I thought the ending itself was crucial. Reviewers are making some deal out of the Alexander Pope reference in the title, but I thought that the quote from Nietzsche was key (and repeated twice, just in case you didn't hear it the first time):

Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders

I have seen at least a couple of critiques of the bleak relativism of the ending--I won't be too specific (in honor of those of you who might not have seen it)--but it's pure Nietzsche, pure amor fati and eternal recurrence. Again, without giving too much away, there's a shift that occurs throughout the movie, where Carrey's attitude towards what's happening changes. Memory becomes less a matter of storage (for more on this and its consistency with contemporary brain science, check Steven Johnson's Slate piece) and more about the production of our selves. In the process of having his memory erased, Carrey re-produces a better version of himself in my reading. I think that Kaufman manages to tap into Nietzschean optimism here in a way I'm not sure I've seen before.

Kirsten Dunst's character is named Mary Svevo (I think I'm right about this odd last name), and there's a whole separate subplot (again, one I won't divulge). Suffice to say that I think that both she and Carrey end up making decisions to forget their forgetting. The best reference I've been able to find is to Italo Svevo, an Italian writer who was a contemporary of James Joyce and wrote about psychoanalysis. In a book called The Confessions of Zeno, Svevo's main character "realizes that there is no cure for life, except a catastrophe." My first reaction to her character was that she was peripheral, a plot device. The more I've thought about it, the more crucial she's become for me, to the point where she ends up providing some important resonances for the main characters--she's the only character in the movie who genuinely recognizes the catastrophe for us.

(Lori's currently making fun of me for trying to be clever, so I'll stop now...)

ESSM was a careful, intricate (both in its writing and its visuals) movie, one that doesn't take the crappy shortcuts so prevalent in Hollowood these days. It's witty and maybe even brilliant. Go see it, and that way I can stop being oblique about what I liked about it...

And the Oscar goes to

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Speaking of psuedo-events, I was able to hold to last year's vow (or was it the year before?), and refrain from viewing even a tiny bit of the bloated self-indulgence that is the Academy Awards. Congratulations to me, therefore.

I did browse for the results, just so I could verify that Sean Penn will continue to receive awards for simply being Sean Penn (to the detriment of at least 3 better acting performances in that category), that Lost in Translation received the "consolation" of Best Original Screenplay, that Return of the King would win not only Best Picture on the basis of the halo effect but a whole bunch of other awards no one cares about, and that Best Female Actor continues to be the only remotely interesting category of the whole bunch.

I'm not bitter, though. Really, I'm not. The Academy is one of those little prestige networks, one with a fairly high membership threshold, whose tastes are mistakenly projected onto an entire industry, through sheer force of luxury, celebrity, and excess. If you don't believe me, check out what someone like Naomi Watts gets, just for showing up. Our eyeballs pay for their luxury cruises, high-def TVs, and diamond-encrusted lingerie. Ick. Okay, so I'm a little bitter.



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This page is a archive of entries in the movies category from March 2004.

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