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Mind over Matter or Mind over Machine?

Welcome back. The post again is about movies and here I am going to discuss three seemingly very different movies but which according to me have a common thread. It is about those movies which go into a virtual world, access to which is through our own brain. And this access is by connecting the brain to a particular machine or system. The movies are THE MATRIX (1999), VANILLA SKY(2001) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). All the three movies belong to different genres altogether. While the Matrix is a science fiction – action thriller, Vanilla Sky is a science fiction – psychological thriller. Now comes the most interesting combo. A science fiction – Romantic film. Seems unlikely? Well, Eternal….is indeed one of its kind.

The question arises – ‘Why this particular type of movies ?’. Being a Nolan fan, am waiting with bated breath for the release of ‘Inception’ featuring Leonardo. It is again about getting into the dreams and sharing dream space though I am not sure about the passage through mind – is it through a machine or is it telepathic? Thus I am tempted to do a comparison of these films. Also, two of the movies feature in Pratik’s suggested list as a reply on the last post.

Coming back, lets discuss the plotline of the three movies. Matrix – The movie is set in 1999 where the main protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is computer programmer is approached by some hackers who want him to understand ‘The matrix’. It turns out that matrix is a virtual system built by machines for controlling the humans and all that Neo is seeing is the virtual world. Outside the matrix, it is a post 2199 era where the bodies of all humans are being used by the machines for their body heat and bio electrical energy.  The hackers – Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are people in the real world who help unplug Humans from the matrix. Morpheus believes that Neo is the ‘ONE’ (word play of NEO) who is capable of saving the humans from the matrix. Over the course of the movie and the two sequels, NEO helps save the world not before we see a lot of mind blowing action sequences. These scenes were first of their kind and are still being aped the world over in many action movies.

Vanilla Sky talks about David Aames (Tom Cruise), a rich spoilt brat who starts seeing Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). His previous partner Julianna (Cameron Diaz) becomes jealous of them and crashes the car (carrying David and Julianna) on intent because of which David’s face is disfigured . Jullianna dies in the car crash. David loves Sofia but she does not seem to have the same feelings for him. Though eventually she comes to him and helps him recover and have a successful plastic surgery. But later on, he starts seeing weird things, starts seeing Julianna replacing Sofia sometimes. He is also stalked by a strange man who keeps giving him warnings. I won’t be revealing any further, go figure out the rest of the movie for yourselves…..

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind  – The story starts on a train where Joel Barish (Jim Carrey)  and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet for the first time. They have an instant liking towards each other. We are slowly taken to flashback, where it is revealed that both were ex-lovers and Clementine had hired the services of Lacuna Inc to erase memories of Joel permanently. Joel is heartbroken and is left with no other choice but to erase his own memory. He goes to Lacuna Inc and applies for a selective memory removal – all memories of Clementine are to be removed permanently.  The employees of Lacuna connect a computer to Joel’s brain and start the procedure. The story then revolves around how once the process starts, Joel is reluctant to part with his memories mind and how he fights back to retain some of their sweet moments together.

All the three movies are complex to a great extent but some of them try and explain the logic to the viewer.  While in Matrix and Eternal ….., the concept of mind-machine interface is introduced early on in the movie, vanilla sky does a great job by holding back the explanation till the very end. It’s a different thing altogether that rather than letting the viewer decipher things himself, he is spoon-fed the whole logic in the last 5 minutes. The matrix is pretty simple to understand and Keanu’s hairstyle gives us a fair idea whether it’s the real world or virtual world. In Eternal, one is expected to be on his toes while watching because of the non-linear style of narration and the continuous movement between the real world and the world of memories.

Though Matrix might seem the oldest of the three, Vanilla sky is the remake of Spanish movie OPEN YOUR EYES(1997) (Abre los ojos) starring Penelope. Also movies like DARK CITY (1998) and THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999), though not very popular had started exploring the virtual world.

Talking about success of the films, ‘The Matrix’ as everyone knows has achieved a cult status, has a high ranking of 26 in IMDB and has also won 4 Academy awards – for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. Eternal….has reached a high 59 rank in IMDB and film won the Academy award for Best original Screenplay. Kate Winslet got an Academy award nomination once again (She’s got 6 till now and she won at the 6th attempt for THE READER).Vanilla Sky has not got many good reviews (a number of negative reviews by top critics on rotten tomatoes) and it got an average IMDB ranking. But nevertheless, it was a commercial hit.

Few words on casting. None of the main actors were the original choice in The matrix. While many actors were approached before Keanu (one of them was Will Smith), Sean Connery  and Sandra Bullock were approached for the role of Morpheus and Trinity respectively. Vanilla Sky featured all top actors and in a sense was a sure hit. Penelope had just begun her career in English films and Cruise’s affair with Cruz ( J) helped generate a lot of publicity. And finally for Eternal…, both feature in my top 5 list of favourites. While Carrey did a stupendous job, performing in a serious role (not doing his rubber faced comedy, his forte), Kate Winslet stole the show completely. In fact, this role helped Carrey establish himself as an ‘actor’ in the real sense of the term for the first time and not just a comedian.

Personally, I liked Eternal Sunshine … the most. Only thing I did not like about the film is ‘oh so long’ title. I liked this movie the most probably because I am biased towards Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. On a serious note, it’s really difficult to bring science fiction into a romantic theme and the effort was totally worth it. The results are there for you to see.

PS: I had planned to write a post on RAAVAN. But now that the film has bombed, may it RIP.

  1. Pratik Prakash
    June 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Hmmm…..havent seen Vanilla sky, so wont comment, but Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (hereafter referred to as ESSM) are among my all time favorites.

    Matrix, as you very rightly put it, is a cult movie. I know many people have trashed the series for the sequels, but I honestly believe what the Wachowski’s did was pretty ambitious. Telling a story on this scale is pretty huge, its almost LOTResque, and they didnt have the advantage of having all 3 stories written for them (in fact, as far as I remember, they wrote the next two after the success of the first). Given all this, I think they did a commendable job, and certainly introduced some characters to remember, particularly Mr.Smith, The Frenchman, and obviously Neo. Even Morpheus performed his role admirably. The film follows the concept of a classic hero’s quest, which involves him refusing to take the call initially, then finally taking the role, losing his mentor along the way (or rather, the leadership of the mentor,), having to stand up for himself against evil, and finally defeating evil. Sometimes the hero gets to do the heroine after all this is over; in other cases, like this one, he’s dead, so he cant do her. The Matrix follows this concept beautifully, and the way Neo is forced to sacrifice in order to save the world was quite striking. One line I’ll always remember is in the ship, in the third movie, when Agent Smith blinds Neo, and then says – “A blind One to save the world!” Deliciously ironic! 😛

    ESSM, on the other hand, is a beautiful, intellectual love story. At the risk of being sexist, I would say that its a guys love story – there is romance, but none of the mushy-mushy crap, instead it explores how/what they felt for each other, and how they want to stay with each other even after all that has happened, and backs it up with a solid concept, one which leaves you thinking long after the movie is over. You say Kate Winslet stole the show, but for me it was Jim Carrey all the way, seeing him in a serious role was delightful. The ending of the movie was especially touching.

    I loved the long title, by the way 🙂 In case you dont know, its taken from a poem by Alexander Pope, check it out sometime.

    More posts andozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! 😀 😀 😀

    PS: I hadnt made the Neo/One connection until I read your post. Feel really silly now 😛

  2. RamanaK
    June 25, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Eternal Sunshine is easily my favourite in the three, and in fact most favourite romantic movie.
    I’d strongly recommend other movies by the screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine – Charlie Kaufman, especially ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Synecdoche, New York’. IMO he is right now the most original screenwriter of our times (Nolan brothers and Tarantino notwithstanding).

  3. Nehal
    June 25, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    hmmm… not bad…. lagta hain IIMC mein movies par assignments mil rahe hain tujhe aajkal….. kuch challenging kaam karna hain toh Aks, Bheja Fry, Namesake, Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag, Phoonk aur Raavan jaisi filmo par likhkar dikha ;-)….. two movies (Bheja Fry and Namesake) out of the above list we both have survived together….. yaad hain !!

  4. Prithviraj
    June 26, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Hey PV,

    Nice post. But I guess, The Matrix (only the One ) tops the chart if u count my disgusting and filthy views over the same. ESOTSM was gud, but David never matched the grace of Mr Anderson. And who can ever forget ever cynical Mr Smith.
    Vanilla Sky is ok ok (watch the spanish original, Open Your Eyes) and can surely and safely placed last (i hated Tom anyways)


  5. vikash
    June 29, 2010 at 6:07 am

    At least something is comming out from long list of moovie which you watched.

  6. Dhananjay
    July 18, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Hi Prashant,
    Good One..
    Matrix when it was released it took me more than 4 times to understand story..
    what you think about Avataar…:)

    • July 18, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      oh i haven’t seen avataar, and it won’t fall into this genre as much, at least thats what i feel

      • Dhananjay Tiwari
        July 19, 2010 at 3:57 am

        Watch It Once..I am Sure you will put another blog for it..
        when you mention “A science fiction – Romantic film. Seems unlikely? Well, Eternal….is indeed one of its kind.”
        To add i would say Machine Might Replace Man…Movies…Directors can do away with Actors Tantrum…James Cameron is just Amazing to say least

  7. January 29, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Coming to think of it Kate & Leopold is another movie which falls into the ROMANCE + SCIENCE fiction category just like eternal sunshine of teh spotkess mind!!!!!!

  1. January 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm

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