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ven if you don't recognize Michel Gondry's name, chances are you're familiar with his fantasies. As a music-video director, he's produced some of the past decade's most visually arresting slivers of MTV ubiquity: Bjork freaking out in a tank ("Army of Me"); Bjork freaking out in a rustic interspecies fantasia ("Human Behavior"); attack of the cloned Kylies ("Come Into My World") and a certified classic: the animated-Lego rendering of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl."
Gondry's videos take you inside alternate universes and impending central nervous system breakdowns. His second film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a near-perfect expansion of his M.O., extrapolating plenty of universal truth about the ways that love can suck. It's the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a schlub who discovers his ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), has undergone a memory-erasing procedure to fully rid herself of their relationship. Devastated, Joel tries to do the same, then changes his mind halfway through the process. As he hovers in kind of coma, reliving his memories of Clementine before they're zapped into oblivion, he discovers there's no going back. Or is there?
Gondry's direction matches Charlie Kaufman's script, stylistic quirk for stylistic
quirk; the film lurches and rewinds seemingly at random. But beneath
the technical smugness is a warm, beating heart — albeit one that's
been forcibly removed from an accident victim with rusty tongs.
The film is a personal one for Gondry (who based his video for Radiohead's "Knives Out" on his girlfriend's struggle with leukemia and their breakup after her recovery). Despite a slight language barrier (he's, uh, French), we discussed this, Sunshine's lack of sex, his next film and his fear of porn. Michael Martin
At its core, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love
story. Are you a romantic? Because many of your videos range from antiseptic
wouldn't guess that you were.
Yeah, I guess I am romantic. I have a lot of . . . emotion. But I don't like the way romanticism is presented in films or music videos, so I don't use them too much in my videos. But they definitely have more feeling than the average, I would say.
Is Sunshine a response to romantic-movie treacle?
I didn't think of other movies, really. I thought of my own experience more: being left by my girlfriend, all the problems to make a relationship work. All the things that everyone who wants to be with someone encounters.
What relationship would you erase from your memory if you could?
I don't think I would erase any, to be honest. The erasing happened to me. It's
an image from the day you find out that your girlfriend decided in an arbitrary
way that she doesn't love you anymore. It's very devastating news. There is a
sense of denial of all the good times, of all the times she told you you were
and now you're not unique anymore. To me, the erasing in the movie represents
that. I don't project myself into the position of erasing someone.
The "Knives Out" video addressed your relationship also. Do you feel
that, after doing this movie, that you've worked through that?
No. I certainly don't think I've worked through that in terms of solving that problem in my life. It's just become worse. But at least I think I did a movie that talked about the subject, and it shows that I care.
You once said in an interview about Bjork, "I'm always jealous when Bjork
works with someone else. I see our relationship like those '70s marriages. The
husband and wife would have sex with other partners to preserve their marriage."Was
your relationship with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet a threesome or voyeurism?
It was more of a threesome. I was very connected to them. I don't give necessarily
precise direction, but I make sure that I create a mood that would make them
and connect to each other. And I had to give each of them different direction;
Jim didn't react to direction in same way as Kate. To
get the same tone between them, I would convey to Kate that she had to
be bigger and more broad, and tell Jim he had to be darker and more dramatic.
It was like a parent-child relationship. Sometimes you have to tell different
things to different children.
A simplistic question: where the hell do your ideas come from?
I have quite accurate memories of dreams. Also, I developed an ability to let my brain be permeable: if I see an image, it might remind me of something else. Or I'll get it confused with something else, because I don't see it properly, and it becomes something new. So I decide I can use it. Like one afternoon, I was at this occupation center for bright children. They played a game where you put a painting on a turntable and spin it around, and it produces lots of great shapes. The problem, I thought, is that you don't see the creating, because it's moving too fast. I thought, wouldn't it be funny if the camera shot at the same rate. Then you wouldn't see the spinning, but you would see the shape being created. It's how my brain works. Finding a solution to a problem is a very important process for me.
Are hallucinogenic drugs involved?
Not at all. I'm scared of them.
Does being called a genius make it easier or more difficult to get out of bed in the morning?
[laughter] I don't believe it. Some people use this word, but it would only apply
after I'm dead.
Your vision is often described as childlike. Do you find that
No, I think it's good. I work a lot with the sensations I had when I was a kid.
Our brains and sensors are more receptive when we're young. There's way more
space. As we grow older, we see the world through a window that grows smaller
steamy. I always try to remember a time when I was very receptive to the world
You once said, "My family was like the families you could see in progressive sex education books at the end of the '60s. On the first page, you'd see the whole family out in the woods in flared blue jeans and then you'd turn the page and they would all be standing naked, to let you know how good they were feeling together." Explain.
I was very lucky growing up. My family was very creative. My father liked jazz
music and we would play Duke Ellington and rhythm and blues, and my mother played
piano and was a music teacher. We didn't have much money, we were very average,
but now my brothers and I are all doing very well, and I think it's because we
were drawn to pop culture so early.
Why is there no sex in your films?
I don't believe in eroticism in movies. It's so voyeuristic; I don't think it's necessary. I don't feel good about it. I respect pornography, but it's always been sad to watch; it gives me nightmares.
Wouldn't it have been natural for the couple in Sunshine to
be shown having sex? You see so much else of their relationship.
Well, I did some. We shot some sex scenes, but they didn't make it through editing. I think sex is better in people's minds than on the screen.
You have no interest in tackling a sex scene?
There's a triangle created between the viewer and the couple having sex that is very disturbing to me. If I were to do a love scene, I would try to have the point of view of the two actors, not someone who is somebody hiding and watching. I don't know; in my work, I try to be honest, and in doing a scene that shows sex, it's hard to be honest. I would be more interested in doing an entire pornographic film. Well, maybe a short film that shows sex in a real way.
How would you do that?
Well, the actors should have sex for real. Although that would be difficult. It's hard to keep it up for a guy when you're in front of the camera, I guess. When you're behind the camera, it's hard to keep it down.
Eternal Sunshine feels like a Michel Gondry film. Your first movie,
Human Nature, felt disappointingly ordinary. Why was that?
Well, maybe I learned. I don't know. I really like Human Nature, and maybe if I do more movies, people will look at what their expectations were and then what they were seeing. It's a question of timing as well. You know a band who does a first album that doesn't sell very well, and then they do a great second album that sells a lot, then the first album is reconsidered and rediscovered.
What draws you to Charlie Kaufman's writing? Are your brains twisted in the same way?
We have stuff in common: a sort of pessimism with love and relationships. We try to have some humor about ourselves and modern life. We laugh about ourselves.
Do you watch television?
Mostly the science channel.
Do you like American film?
Yeah, I like some broad comedy like Back to the Future. I love Groundhog Day. I don't like movies that look slick and are about being humans stronger than life. The best movie I saw lately was American Splendor.
Your next film, The Science of Sleep, is about man held hostage
in a dream.
Yes, the main character develops a technique to control his dreams. He's in love with a girl, and he tries to use the dream to be with her in a way. But even in the dream, it doesn't work. He gets so involved in his dream that he gets stuck between the dream and real life. And the people in the dream don't want him to wake up, because they're afraid he won't come back to the dream and they won't exist anymore.
Again, this sounds very personal.
It's very personal, and I wrote the screenplay.
I think about your work Human Nature, all the way back
to Bjork's "Human Behavior" video and there's this recurring theme of people being trapped or chased, or running from something.
I don't know, probably it's coming from my dreams and nightmares. It's a very classical nightmare, you know. Running to avoid danger and being stuck in places. It's a feeling I have in general. I don't want to be stuck anywhere. n°
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opens today, Mar. 19.
To order The Work of Michel Gondry on DVD, click http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000DBJ9J/nerve/ " target="new">here.