Joel and Clementine met on a beach. He ‘couldn’t believe he was attracted to someone’s back.’
Her hair, that day, was a vivid aubergine. She said about herself, ‘I apply my personality in a paste.’
He was shy, she was theatrical. He spoke only when forced, she stopped talking only when she ate and drank – and she did both heartily.
Joel and Clementine loved each other madly. Their first date was lying on a frozen river, looking up at the stars. He was unsure of how sane this idea was. She held his hand and helped him get whimsical.
When they made love, Clementine’s face would be resplendent in some kind of quiet sorrow. She’d talk to Joel under the blanket. She’d say, ‘People don’t really know how lonely children are.’ Joel would kiss her then. He knew.
One day, they had a spat. She stormed out of the house. He followed her but couldn’t get her back. He tried. He failed. She had forgotten him, with some help from a doctor.
Joel felt betrayed at this. He now didn’t even exist as a memory in Clementine’s mind. Only one thing remained to be done. He decided to erase Clementine from his memory as well. There would be no trace of that rush of eccentricity that he’d taken comfort in before. He’d forget everything. He’d move on.
The people at the memory-erasing clinic were most competent. They profiled his memory meticulously. They identified each and every pinprick of reminiscence that had Clementine in it. There were long pages of data, there were thick sheaves of material. There was, in effect, a detailed roadmap of what had to be done so that Joel could get unencumbered of the past.
The chief doctor explained the procedure to Joel, but Joel was apprehensive. He asked the doctor, ‘Will there be any brain damage?’
The doctor replied, ‘The procedure is brain damage.”
Joel agreed to go ahead. Soon, there would be no Clementine in his memory. That meant that there had been no Clementine in his life – ever.
The procedure would take place when he is sleeping; the sweet semi-conscious state where there would be no resistance.
But there was.
As Clementine got erased from one memory after another, Joel panicked. Suddenly, he wanted those memories to remain. But he was helpless because once you have decided to forget someone, that decision is irrevocable. Medical policy.
But those obstinate, insolent memories – they fought, they bounded up; each tiny, fragile one of them – like when Clementine colors her hair orange and Joel calls her tangerine; or when she leaps onto him and playfully tries to smother him; or even that simple pringle of remembrance – when they’re breaking into someone’s home and Joel is concerned if the owners have a dog, and Clementine says with a haughty assurance, ‘There is not a dog.’ Joel wanted to keep that. Because suddenly the memories weren’t painful anymore, they were wonderful and mellow. In the manner that nostalgia is a seductive liar, or the way the past is a different country and we do things differently there, or like the truth that time to live is shorter than the time to forget.
So, now Joel manufactured memories – he started thinking of Clementine as his playmate when he was little, or a glamorous aunt when he was four. He’d have Clementine in a conjecture if need be, in a moment in time that never happened. But he wouldn’t forget her. Not at all.
The thing that makes it better to love and lose than never to have loved at all is this – the melancholic, doleful déjà vu when you see anything beautiful. To relinquish that is a kind of betrayal the soul won’t stand for.
Take the case of Clementine, who successfully has had Joel removed from her brain. She nevertheless feels anguish when someone calls her ‘nice’, the way Joel did. Or the way someone tells her that she makes him happy, the way Joel did. There is no Joel anymore – just all the ‘ways he did’.
This discursive narrative of living, loving, forgetting, and then changing your mind – it’s like a poem. Because poems are as much about that dewdrop that triggered a verse as it is about the rhyme itself. Because love is not so much the voice as it is the echo. This curvy, belligerent, song-like remembering is a film like an Alexander Pope poem, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’
A bit about the performances:
Kate Winslet – Very, very good. And it’s a bit unnerving to see someone that gorgeous smile.
Kirsten Dunst – As the pretty nurse who spouts Bartlett quotations, she dazzles. Definitely better than what I expected of her. And she should never work in a Spiderman movie again. That’s just a case of pearls before swines.
Mark Ruffalo – He breaks your heart without warning. Also, I have only seen him in ‘Just like Heaven’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I consider myself to be greatly disserviced at not having seen any more of his films.
And then, there is Jim Carrey, with who I go back a long way.
I was a law student preparing for a particularly important moot court competition. One of our competitors was a law college whose students and teachers alike had a rarefied legal bloodline.
My days, at that time, were spent trying to trace my college professors who wouldn't turn up on time and hasten to leave after cursorily glancing through our submissions. Our chances of competing with dignity seemed dismal.
All in all, we were left to our own devices. My friends and I would visit labor courts and try to get a feel of how arguments in courts were conducted, how lawyers fielded questions from judges, how they covered their tracks, how they played up strong contentions and disguised weak ones.
All we witnessed was an exasperated judge spelling out 'argon' to the steno for the tenth time.
We then made the one-hour travels to visit the high court. That was much better, of course, but we couldn't really learn too much from the proceedings.
To our luck, every civil suit we saw had the lawyers asking for adjournments.
Since such escapades were monstrously eating into our preparation time, we abandoned further exploits and went back to our inadequate library to study.
As assiduously as I prepared for such competitions, I knew that I would never practice law. I somehow got the feeling that I would not be a good arguing counsel. This is despite faring well at several auditions and consistently receiving plaudits from my teachers. I wished they would read my short stories or articles and commend me for that instead.
Around the same time, Jim Carrey was getting increasingly popular for his, umm, ‘antics’ I suppose, since ‘acting’ doesn’t quite describe it well.
There’d be these discussions and reviews of ‘Ace Ventura – 1, 2, 3, infinity’, ‘Mask’, and other contortionist thespianisms and Jim Carrey was hailed as the next big thing in the face of comedy – or rather, the big thing in the face of comedy. I disagreed. He was too loud and bawdy all the time and really, what was ‘Cable Guy’ all about?
However, I had liked him a lot as the Riddler in a Batman flick. But that was a flash in the pan, wasn’t it?
The night before the moot court competition, I was winding down watching a little T.V. I hoped I would catch an episode of ‘The Practice’ or something and get ideas on how to refine my arguments further. But no such luck. After some channel surfing, I settled down to watching Jim in some film on Star Movies.
And what I saw there gave me a question I asked myself the next day, after the competition. And many times thereafter, when I’m not quite sure why I’m being praised.
The movie was a rather old, small-budget film (or so it seemed), ‘Doing time on Maple Drive’.
It was the story of a white picket-fence American family that lived on Maple Drive. There were three children – all very intelligent. However, two of them had achieved much and the third had taken to the bottle. Jim Carrey played the alcoholic.
That he was the black sheep of the family was made quite clear from the way his father behaved with him. To top it all, Jim Carrey stayed with his parents while his siblings followed successful lifestyles in some posh suburbs.
Jim’s character was that of a man whose self-esteem is shattered. And he has sort of, reconciled to that fact. His father considers him to be worthless and the guy himself has accepted his father’s estimation of him.
Sometimes, though, he gets frustrated and confronts his father. In these confrontation scenes, I saw a really powerful actor. His body language is so subtle, and of all things that Carrey was associated with in my mind, restraint was not on the list.
There is a scene in the movie where Carrey is making himself a snack. I think it’s around Thanksgiving or Christmas. His father enters the kitchen and sits down to read a newspaper.
Carrey’s stance changes. His shoulders droop a little bit, he fumbles ever so slightly with the mayonnaise bottle, he’s unsure of whether he should greet his father – all this happens almost imperceptibly. I honestly couldn’t believe that it was the same guy who won accolades for stretching a green face.
During breakfast, he and his father have an argument about Carrey’s many failings. I don’t remember the altercation too well, but I think Carrey makes some remark about how his father did not give him enough time when he was a child.
“What do you expect? I have three children!”, his father says exasperated with Carrey’s whines.
“ You have three children. I have one father”, replies Carrey.
It’s likely I have muddled up the details here and there. But what I am absolutely certain of, even today, is the searing way that line was delivered.
Carrey’s posture at standing up to his father had changed. His fist was clenched but his voice was trembling and there were tears in his eyes. It was a touching portrayal of a broken man trying to put up a fight for his dignity.
Strangely, I haven’t met anyone else who has heard of, much less, seen this film.
When I watched Carrey in that, I wondered how he could stand being praised for the ‘Liar Liars’ and ‘Dumb and Dumbers’ when he was capable of this – this fine virtuoso-like scene stealing. I wonder how he felt being praised as an actor for those films instead of this one.
Watching Carrey in that film gave me the question I often ask myself – whether it is better to get what you don’t deserve instead of losing out on what you do.
The next day was the big competition. Justice Y.B. Chnadrachud was presiding over it. He was one of the youngest judges of Bombay High Court. And he was from Harvard; that meant my knees were all marshmallow-like.
The competition began. Most contestants were very good.
Then it was my turn. I was pitted against this girl, Madhavi, from Aurangabad. We had to argue a criminal case. I was the prosecution and she was the defense counsel.
I did reasonably well – fielded questions confidently, gave appropriate weightage to my many contentions (a tough job given the stringent time-constraint) and finally finished with a simple, yet persuasive summation. That was definitely a good performance.
While I had ‘performed’, she ‘argued’. Her grasp of the case details was immaculate. It’s an understood strategy that for criminal cases, you argue the facts and not the law. She did just that.
That tangled mass of evidence and hostile bits of legislation were putty in her hands. She picked each thread of the case mindfully and unknotted it so that all you could see was the innocence of the accused.
They say that good advocacy is soft words but strong argument. Unfortunately, that notion is rather unpopular in Mumbai. We want drama.
Around me, there was sniggering. The students and some teachers snidely commented on Madhavi’s pronunciation. Madhavi pronounced ‘Lardseep’ instead of ‘Lordship,; ‘aybhidench’ instead of ‘evidence’. Funnily, people caught on to that instead of seeing the unparalleled brilliance of her delivery.
She didn’t look at her files even once. She quoted the sections of the IPC smoothly. And the clinching factor was that she managed to do all this without sounding rehearsed.
When she finished with, ‘That’s all, your lordship’, it was clear to me that this girl from Aurangabad had swung the competition from those of us with ‘convent pronunciations’.
I was wrong. I won the first prize.
After the prize distribution, we moved to the faculty room for refreshments.
Madhavi was sitting in a corner having tea. She saw me and smiled. ‘You were good’, she said.
I shrugged. I was good but she was perfect. I guess she couldn’t be considered as a bona fide contestant. With her caliber, she was in a league of her own.
In some moot courts after that, I have lost out on the first position to others. Several times, people have told me that I was definitely more deserving than the winner. And as bad as I have felt then, it’s never come close to what I felt winning over Madhavi.
At least, for me, I’d rather lose out on what I deserve than get what I don’t.
Today, people talk of Carrey with a little more seriousness than before. Now, they regard him as an actor who is proficient in his métier after ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Truman Show’, ‘Majestic’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (he’s top-class, by the way). I still remember the reserved drunkard in ‘Doing Time on Maple Drive’.
Jim Carrey – I knew him when…