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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I know you don't normally comment on movies, and probably not on awards to them, but do you think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deserved the award for Best Original Screenplay?


This week's Answer: 

Eternal Sunspot of the Sunshine Mind

I notice, dear e-mailer, that you didn't leave your name.  By the way, your name wouldn't be "Charlie kaufman," would it?  As in the Charlie Kaufman who wrote ESOTSP?  If so, my answer is that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the best screenplay that ever existed in the entire history of screenplay writing.  (And, Charlie, give me a call and we'll work together on your next project.).  And, if this isn't Charlie Kaufman... then let's proceed, shall we?...

I believe the script received the Oscar nod because of its originality (which makes sense, being that the word, "original," is in the title of the award).  The sci-fi sensibility melded with a relationship story is extremely creative, the idea of a relationship being put asunder (or its end at least being hastened) by technological means,  harking back to the novel (and film), 1984 and others with a similar motif.  Inventions in the script abound, including the delineation of the visually vanishing elements of the scenes where the protagonist is viewing (actually "reviewing") his memories of him being with his girlfriend.  The author relates the tale in a unique manner as he intrigues us with what appears to be conflicting versions of how the protagonist met the girl, and we are held suspended, as it were, in his story, almost like one of his memories, not absolutely clear, not absolutely transparent, not fully opaque, until we are given the explanation at the end, relieving us of an enticing discomfort.  Actually, "enticing discomfort"  is a good description of what the movie offers throughout its telling.  This is much more than a "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again" film (it's more like "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again," which just by this label reveals the freshness of thought that went into the story.

I felt the screenplay would have been even stronger if it had balanced its unique intellectualization with more emotionality and let us get closer to the hearts of the characters, thereby allowing us a more powerful, emotional catharsis when the two lovers decide to have another go at a relationship that they know will have many pitfalls (as described on their individual recordings made by them before their memories were erased).  There was a pervading gloom to the film (I don't think we saw a lot of sunny, "Bay Watch" shots as far as I can recall.  Not that sunny, "Bay Watch" shots are a good thing to splice into a gloomy film.  On the other hand, some quick flashes of Pamela Anderson running in slow motion with perfectly timed "breast bounce" while the latest teen tune wails might have given the film just the right kind of "lift" the film didn't need.), which may have kept the members of the venerated Academy That Gives Out Statues Whimsically To Those People In The Film Industry That It Likes Or Knows Or Thinks It Knows The Best from nominating it for best picture, or nominating the talented and insightful director of ESOTSM for best director.  I, personally, as I enjoy a nice month of of steady, mud-sliding (actually "house-sliding") rain in southern California (which I don't think the Mamas and the Papas were referring to when they alluded to "California Dreamin'), I also can appreciate a dark lens-tinted, gray sky, haven't-seen-any-sign-of-the-sun-as-far-as-I-can-remember kind of flick.  Academy members, on the other hand, will go for "Bay Watch."  I'll go out on a limb here and say that it is my considered opinion that it is most likely that even the members who voted for ESOTSM didn't all see it.  I suppose conversations between the venerated could have gone something like this:

     Academy Member 1:  So, did you see "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"?

     Academy Member 2:  Can't say as I have.

     Academy Member 1:  What, are you suddenly in Mayberry?

     Academy Member 2:  Huh?

     Academy Member 1:  Never mind.  Do you think "Eternal Sunshine" is good?

     Academy Member 2:  Don't know.

     Academy Member 1:  Yeah, me neither.  

     Academy Member 2:  I did hear that it was gloomy.

     Academy Member 1:  Gloomy? (concerned)

     Academy Member 2:  Yep.

     Academy Member 1:  Are we back in Mayberry?

    Academy Member 2:  Sorry.  Been watching too many "Beverly Hillbillies" reruns.

    Academy Member 1:  I don't like gloomy.

    Academy Member 2:  Me neither.  Gloomy films are too gloomy.

    Academy Member 1:  Right.  What the world needs now is... 

    Academy Member 2:  You're not going to sing are you?

     Academy Member 1:  ...less gloomy.

    Academy Member 2:  Exactly.  Much less gloomy.

    Academy Member 1:  And it's title is so long.

    Academy Member 2:  So true.  And what does it mean, anyway?  Film titles    

                                       should be one word or less.

    Academy Member 1:   Exactly.  Like "Fargo."

    Academy Member 2:   And... and...

    Academy Member 1:   Other one-word-or-less titles.

    Academy Member 2:   Right.

 Academy Member 1:   So I'm not going to a gloomy, too-long-titled movie like that.

  Academy Member 2:  Me neither.  But what if it's good?

  Academy Member 1:  That's true.  It might actually be good.  Then we'd look 

                                      stupid if we didn't vote for it.   

  Academy Member 2:  That's true.  

  Academy Members 1 and 2:   (pondering) hmmmmmmmmm.

  Academy Member 1:   I've got it!

  Academy Member 2:   What?!

  Academy Member 1:  We can give it "Best Original Screenplay" and still not see it!

  Academy Member 2:  Excellent!  And if anybody asks if we saw it, we'll just say it 

                                    is fresh, inventive, and ORIGINAL!

  Academy Member 1:  Although, a tad gloomy.

  Academy Member 2:  Yes, definitely gloomy.

And so, dear e-mailer of this e-mail question (and anybody else who stuck around until the end of this article), I hope my words have helped answer your question and shed a little eternal sunshine of my spotless mind on it.

DcH 

 

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