Tonight at 8 p.m., the Film Series will screen Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” before what one hopes will be a packed house. If there was ever a modern-day movie to screen before a gaggle of college students, it’s Tarantino’s bloody, profound, screamingly funny and time-twisting triumph. Any movie featuring a woman being revived from death via an adrenaline-filled hypodermic needle to the chest requires a chorus of gasps and disbelieving giggles to retain its full effect.
For many (myself included), this will also be the first chance to see “Pulp Fiction” on the big screen. Even the elder statesmen and women of our current undergraduate population were not much past ten when this film exploded like an atomic bomb out of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. So many of the films we grew up with took guidance (if not shamelessly stole) from Tarantino’s singular mix of gutter-wit, chronology-scrambling, and esoteric knowledge of popular culture; we can only retrospectively appreciate the influence it had on a whole generation of filmgoers and filmmakers. As wonderfully as it holds up today, our generation will never experience that first hit of spiked Tarantino cocktail the generation before us so greedily gulped down.
This all begs the question: if “Pulp Fiction” was the movie of the generation previous, what is the movie of our generation? For a multitude of reasons, I’d like to argue for Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Before the arguments begin, and I do hope there will be arguments, some caveats are in order. I’m in no position to start laying out definitions of what concretely “defines” our generation. Nor am I trying to state at what point our generation lies on the grand scale of time; nor am I denying the possibility that more great, defining films are yet to come (I’m expecting them, and more than a couple from Wesleyan grads).
The desire to answer this question comes less from sociological interest and more from everyday feelings. From this commonplace tempest we call our youth springs a further desire, a further need, to see the views and feelings of my peers and me (i.e., my generation, as I am so loosely calling it here) not only translated into the dominant modern-day art form, but refracted through the brilliant, unruly minds of modern-day artists. What I want to see on screen is the common experience of you and me and everyone we know; but transformed into something grander and more lasting, something we can show the generation after us and say, “If this isn’t exactly what it was like, it’s what it felt like.”
With all this in mind, I once again submit “Eternal Sunshine” for consideration. An obvious choice? I certainly hope so. A major criterion of a generational classic must be widespread knowledge and viewership; how else are we to know if we actually connect to it? Of course, if sheer popularity was king, then “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” would hold a far larger place in our collective hearts than it currently does. The film of a generation has to acknowledge and translate the unspoken and often un-definable emotions of an age group, crystallizing their common experience.
“Eternal Sunshine” achieves this on several levels. The lovers that form the film’s bruised heart are among the most memorable and fully-developed individuals seen on the silver screen in some time, while integrating personality traits specific to our generation. Joel, the passive-aggressive introvert, lives in a state of quasi-arrested development, with his notebooks full of fastidious doodles. Clementine covers her lost soul with rainbow hair and self-aware punkette posturing. Together, they’re the slightly odd couple that we all know in some way, shape, or form.
The casting of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet further adds to our generational connection. Anyone between the ages of 18 to 23 can immediately conjure up memories of both rubbery-faced Carrey in a slew of mid- 90’s comedies and porcelain-skinned Winslet in that cultural watershed otherwise known as “Titanic.” Now, years later, these icons of our adolescence appear again upon the silver screen. This time, however, they’re walking and talking like us, fending off insecurities and indulging in neuroses. Our cinematic past and present subconsciously collide. Oh, and they both give career-best performances.
Charlie Kaufman’s modern classic of a screenplay, however, gives “Eternal Sunshine” its soul. This is not to undervalue the contribution of Gondry, who assembles the film as a collage of simple and powerful images that run on the logic of dreams. However, it’s fair to say this is Kaufman’s show, and his singular style of passionately intellectual concepts grounded in all-too-familiar human emotion comes into full bloom here. More than ever, Kaufman uses the bracing brilliance of his imagination to unlock gateways of understanding ourselves and our world.
For us, the iPod generation, technology paradoxically gives us virtually unlimited means of communication while simultaneously fostering an acute sense of disconnection. Is it possible to truly interact and find love with another human being when the world around us buzzes, beeps, and bombards us with seemingly limitless options? That is the question posed before Joel, Clementine, and the audience as we travel with them through the memory and romance erasing process that makes up the bulk of the film.
Joel and Clementine’s destiny, of course, proves to be beyond the reach of even the latest technology, a would-be triumph of the human spirit that only leads to more questions. Namely, what now? How do two people make a lasting relationship actually work when confronted with every reason why it shouldn’t? The film’s response, in that wonderful, laughing-through-tears final scene, speaks to a jaded, searching generation struggling for the same answers. “Eternal Sunshine” doesn’t provide them; what film could? What it does do, perhaps better than any other recent film, is translate our generation’s free-floating anxieties and yearnings into a work of art worthy of our respect and our love.
Convinced? Whether the answer is yes, no, or anything in between, I desperately want to know what you, the readers, think.