Both cinema and other arts are mediums of thought and share basic concepts. This includes narrative, colour, story, composition, framing and criticism. However, their distinctions begin to show when philosophically investigated. As other arts aim at something unreal through the world, Michael Gondry has created a realistic, almost documentary style, piece of art. An interesting claim about philosophical writing is that authors rarely reflect on their inspiration for their chosen topic. (Sinnerbrink: 2014)This essay will seek to explore the various devices employed when involving philosophy in the realm of art and cinema.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) will be used to show that indeed films can be philosophical, even raise and answer some existential questions of the human experience that we face but may not know how to quantify. This essay will include authors and critical thinkers such as Stanley Cavell, Nietzsche, Deleuze and John Locke to name a few. In doing so, it will assist in illustrating cinemas difference from other arts and the world created in ESOSM (2004) becoming its own image.
It can be said that the film runs along the lines of a twisted love story but the inclusion of technology almost gives the intial impression of a work of science fiction. The structure seems to have some Tarantino influence concerning its non-linear narrative. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet star as two now ex lovers have decided to undergo a procedure that will erase all memories of the relationship, offered by a company called Lacuna Inc. When Joel (Jim Carey) realises what Clementine (Kate Winslet) has done he is left heartbroken and confused, I was the nicest guy she ever dated.
In contrast to the perfectly polished stars in classical Hollywood, the story is told with a gritty filter to make the story and the characters more realistic. Their clothes arent perfectly matched and the shifting of lens focus helps the audience to feel more emotionally immersed. Eevnts take a turn for the worst as Joel begins to have the procedure but changes his mind after being confronted with the objective truth about their relationship.
Firstly, Stanley Cavell remains incongruous in contemporary philosophy. This is due to his acknowledgement of the biological aspect and the existential themes in his writings. He was inspired by both philosophical and secular literature. It was not only the originality of Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations, but the fact that it staked its teachings on showing that we have forgotten or become complacent about reading and its pertinence. (Sinnerbrink:2014) Three movies revealed to Cavell that there were new possibilities of philosophical thought and expression. [Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman, 1955) Hiroshima mon Amour (Duras, 1955) Lavventura (Antonioni, 1959)] Cavell states that these three films are cinematic works of art, that opened up the question of what constitutes a medium of thought and they altered the iconography of intellectual conversation. (Cavell: 2006: 29) This suggests a somewhat balanced link between film and philosophy could be possible. Rothman proposes the ideal that thinking is inscribed in a films succession of frames(Rothman: 2012: 69) and this can be explained further in the analysis of the Nietzschean characters Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet). Deleuze touches on this subject when exploring false movement in film. He asserts that ‘cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image’. To recreate natural movement in film is to create an illusion of reality. This is where cinema coincides with other art. (Deleuze: : II) On the other hand, other art is usually met with the question of the artists inspiration or motive behind the unreal world which has become an image. The way movies express thought both fading and enduring, presents one flaw. This is the tradition-bound and context insensitive tendencies attributed to philosophy. (Cavell: 2006: 51) Some explanations can be weakened by absolute theories and would better benefit from a more cumulative one.
The question of style, finding words adequate to our aesthetic experience, is central to understanding what films think. (Cavell: 2006: 52) Much like the thoughts behind a static image in an exhibition in terms of its storytelling. This questions should prompt the cinematic spectator to express this experience; what it means and prompt us to think on a more existential level even if this does not include the metaphysical or deity. Though many argue Cavells avoidance of argument majorly flaws his work, it cannot be disregarded that his performative writing is with conviction and held in high esteem. Cavell poses the question,is style a vice or virtue in doing or writing philosophy? One believes that style has both its merits and restrictions when writing about philosophical matters as it can allow for more fluid and inclusive answers that have universal themes. His use of philosophical prose in conjunction with his unique authorial voice has caused some sceptics such as Anthony Kenny to classify his writings as difficult, demanding and distracting. (Kenny: 1980: 448) Cavells style appears somewhat infuriating as one finds themselves constantly attempting to make distinctions for clarity but is incessantly bombarded by more forks in the road.
Furthermore, like Deleuze, Cavell amalgamates drama, cinema and language games in dialogue with literature renders his arguments ambiguous and uncertain, his stature as a philosopher. Anthony Kenny dismisses, even mocks Cavells self-indulgent style (Kenny: 1980: 449) Kenny appreciates Cavells literary and philosophical gifts but puts further emphasis on the arguments misshapen, undisciplined concoction of ill-parts. Kenny continues and likens an English garden with the philosophical text. He states that it could have been better had it been pruned of dead wood and exuberant foliage; meaning Cavells argument lacks distinction, overall structure and ongoing self-flattery. Kennys review is not just a mere criticism of philosophical obscurity, so much as a moral failing; a lack of self-restraint in his self indulgent style (Culler: 2003: 48). Review of Metaphysics
In response to Cavells idea of an existential pathos animating Wittgensteins text; Richard Aldridge claims that Cavell affords a sharp sense of what is most interesting and important; but also foreign to most in professional philosophy. The former relates to the expression of philosophical sensibility that shape Cavells thinking and engagement with Wittgenstein, and finally, his concern with philosophy as a kind of writing. The more investigation is done into Cavells works, it is clear that even attempting to critique his theories one finds themselves suspended between proposals and retractions.
Moreover, Cavells way of philosophising on film demands an attending to style because he felt that cinema not only provides a profound expression and response to scepticism. It too calls upon philosophy to analyse itself through cinema. (Cavell: 2006: 54) His style requires the articulation of the cinematic experience in a philosophical manner. This is core to Cavells writing about film. He postulates the concept the capturing moods of faces and motions and settings; their double existence as transient and permanent has proved to leave permanent marks. (Cavell: 2008: 282). This makes explicit the intimate link between the experience of cinema and the question of style in Cavells philosophical prose. Concerning the above subject matter, this serves as an inspiration, ethico-aesthetic obligation or a literary challenge. (Cavell: 2006: 55) [explain]
Cavells writings on film combine a personal and recursive voice with aesthetic openness and existential reflection. Whether it is via close readings of individual films or essays reflecting distinct topics, Cavell focuses on how style is related to thought in the encounter between philosophy and film. No attentive reader of Cavell can forget the influence of Plato and Nietzschean intuition. It is this approach that will be utilised in demonstrating of the relationship between film and philosophy (or filmosophy) almost being contingent on one another with the example of ESOSM (2004) and philosophical characters. The over arching concern is the distinct Platonic need to reconfigure the place of truth in cinema. The difficulty one encounters is the fact that media such as cinema, function to blur the already problematic distinction between culture, entertainment and art. (Ling: 2013: 3).
Gilles Deleuze famously maintained that every reaction against Platonism is a restoration of the doctrine of the metaphysical encompassing or becoming manifest in the physical world. This forbids the return of transcendence. In response to Deleuze, Badiou contends that only a return to Plato can create an absolute radical conception of truth(Ling: 2013: 8) as universal employing a priori reasoning. This means that it is applicable to non-empirical propositions but is still subject to falsification. If intuitions can support a judgement, then it can be deemed a priori reasoning as opposed to a posteriori which concerns an empirical experience. (Schaffer and Verber: 2011: 43) However, studies have shown that the former intuition is often unreliable. For example, intuition alone could not drive the plot in ESOSM (2004) as it is contingent on the growing dependency we have on technology, therefore distancing us from autonomy and personal memories. All these theories relate to the question, what is cinema? and the ontological question, what does cinema think?
To continue, ESOSM (2004) is a film that demands the presence of thoughts we put aside when surrounded by people; its a therapeutically liberating work of art. (Khatry: 2013) One philosophical or existential question the film asks is if we are merely all our past experiences and memories, or if there is something more? Is ignorance indeed bliss? (Khatry: 2013) The film at least answers this question in that memory erasing or a spotless mind does not bring eternal sunshine or content. The weak link in Lacunas endeavour is though the procedure can erase memories, it cannot erase feelings. ESOSM (2004) suggests memories shape us as individuals and this subject cannot be fully explored without the use of a priori and a posteriori reasoning. The film evidently thinks in the same way a painting or static image is an intrinsic form of storytelling. Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) illustrate the transcendence of attraction, experience or retrospective judgement. The leaves the couple in a position to be different with each other in order to create better memories, knowing that it will end badly. This relates to the Platonic dialogue from Parmenides. They fall for each other again on a cold day at the beach. Both Joel and Clementine implant an impulse which defeats the system in a final attempt of desperation.
There is no doubt that ESOSM (2004) has been greatly interwoven with philosophy. Namely, the works of Nietzsche and his thoughts about forgetfulness. He proposes that humans must possess the capacity to remember the past when it is beneficial. Mary Sveno recites:
Blessed art the forgetful, for they get even the better of their blunders(author date title?)
We can say that Joel and Clementine are Nietzschean characters because they are pure becomings, transcendent of suffering; in short, they are pure affirmation of the human experience. This responds directly to the world within ESOSM (2004) becoming its own image. Cinema, unlike other art aiming at something unreal, EXPLAIN
Told in a succession of flashbacks this movies non-linear narrative is part of what makes it so memorable. The story initially assumes the typical boy meets girl structure but after a bad breakup, she decides to undergo a procedure from a company called Lacuna Inc. to erase all memories of the reltionship; and in doing so, hopefully her feelings too. The flashbacks slowly reveal an elongated relaity in comparison to Joels initial pain and bewilderment. He too decides that he will undergo this procedure to mend his broken heart. But as his memory loos commences, he becomes trapped in them, watching as they disappear. Though the typical romantic tropes are present, Gondry has created an unnatural narrative style. The story of Joel and Clementine is told through Joels memory erasing. But it feels as if the story is being told backwards as each memroy fades. Memory is a vital tool in our perception of past and present and this is why it was beneficial for Joel to have this idea in the first place. The cinematic techniques employed give the audience an understanding of the confusion and frustration in Joels subjectivity. Svereal jump cuts break the contninutiy in order to achieve a smooth storyline. Furthermore, the montage diting illustrates Joels memory best, another example of editing continuity. The film begins with smooth opening of handheld frames but as the film goes on, the switching between continuity and discontinuity exceptionally conveys the change between reality and distorted memories. Special effects make the experience of erasing Joels memory more relatable as it gets darker and the use of spotlights that focus on Joel and Clementine as they try and escape. This illustrates the Lacuna technician effectively searching through his memories with the erasing program. Other distinct instances of illustrating memories being erased is the way Clementine is physically pulled away into the dark out of Joels embrace as they lay on the frozen over lake. The movement of shots makes the scene more realistic as opposed to statis shots. The purpose of this is to make the audience feel they are involved in the scene rather than being a distant spectator. () The regular use of handheld shots resemble a documentary; its gritty filter makes the emotional immersion easier for the audience. The intentional changes in focus also contributes to the aforementioned. () In addition, the use of pull focus from Joel to Clementine as well as objects out of focus is a good way to show memory distortion. A crane shot is used when Joel is left alone on the frozen lake and the camera moves further away from him as he pleads for the procedure to end. This is to show Joels lack of control and insignificance; it also reveals his loneliness at being left behind when everything around him is dying