What Eternal Sunshine Taught 15 Year Old Me About Love

Movies and Books

A crestfallen, middle-aged man stumbles toward the exit of the bookstore at which his girlfriend works, crushing in one fist a necklace he’d bought her for Valentine’s. As he crosses the threshold, the lights fizzle out and the walls converge, morphing into the cramped living room of a grimy apartment in which his friends regretfully inform him that his now ex had erased him from her memory. It’s probably the most beautiful and heartbreaking scene transition I have ever seen—maybe ever will.

Out of all the poignant sequences Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind offers, this is the one that resonated with me most upon my first of four viewings. It stuck with me because it terrified me. At 15, I knew nothing about love and the control it has over the landscape of our thoughts. At 15, I had no desire to experience such a destructive and (in my naïve little head) overrated force, until I saw Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) stagger into that living room, shoulders hunched and eyes hollow, exuding shock waves of grief and vengeance. It was my first glimpse at just how suddenly and completely love can crumble, and how powerless we are to its crumbling. I was intrigued—no, addicted.

Oblivion terrifies me. To be eradicated from the consciousness of a planet to which I’ve literally devoted my entire existence is the saddest yet most inevitable thing I can imagine. To be eradicated from the consciousness of a person to whom you’ve devoted your heart—and invested an unwarranted belief in everything transcendent and beautifulis too cruel for words. Yet, there’s also a paradoxical sense of wonder to all this bleak bullshit, because the convergence of two souls is in fact the most transcendent and beautiful thing imaginable. Joel loved Clementine so much that he couldn’t remember a self without her; they were so connected that he had to eradicate her from his own consciousness to fill the void within it.

15 year old me was terrified of how much I craved that connection for myself. I still haven’t fallen for anyone the way Joel and Clementine fell for each other. I still want to as much as I did six years earlier because, really, how else do you defy oblivion other than by leaving an indelible imprint on somebody else’s mind? The perpetual nightmare of reality doesn’t grant you memory-erasing machines. If you get fucked, you carry those scars forever, but at least you know that someone, somewhere will always bear some remnant of your soul–no matter how small, no matter how bitter. And that’s pretty fucking neat.

Dazed and Confused: 20 Years On

Movies and Books

It’s a definitive moment of 90s cinema, the era of Gen X slacker flicks: Six high schoolers sprawled on the 50 yard line of their empty football field, gazing at the ink-blue canvas of a pre-dawn sky and trading hard-hitting stoner thoughts on the meaning of life.

“If I start referring to these as the best years of my life,” says Pink, the star quarterback and alpha dog of the school, “remind me to kill myself.”

“You just gotta keep on livin’, man,” comes the now iconic response from Wooderson, the twentysomething womanizer with greasy hair and a faint mustache. “L-I-V-I-N.”

Such existential ramblings, at once satirical and deeply profound, transformed Richard Linklater’s 1993 low-budget comedy, Dazed and Confused, into a coming-of-age cult classic.

It follows a group of students on the last day of school in 1976. What happens? Not much, other than what usually happens–underage drinking, unsupervised parties, first kisses, pseudo-hazing rituals, and a whole lot of soul searching. By the time dawn breaks, Linklater has given us a hearty throwback to the 70s, a soundtrack full of classic rock anthems, and a pair of future superstars: Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.

But Dazed and Confused is more than just an authentic portrayal of the rebellious and indulgent 70s youth culture. It is an impressionist painting of the adolescent mind, expressing the timeless struggle to escape mediocrity and find purpose, to discard the future and embrace the now. Its characters are as familiar to us millenials as they were to Gen Xers upon its initial release 22 years ago. They are reckless yet empathetic, lazy yet passionate. They are, for the lack of a more apt phrase, dazed and confused–as we are now.

“I’d like to quit thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else,” says Cynthia the redhead scene-stealer, in what could be a mantra for the youth movement.

With seamless transitions from one vignette to the next, Linklater’s understated direction captures the immaturities of youth with an observant, compassionate eye. The weakness of the script, marked by one-dimensional characters and incoherent plotlines, actually adds to the haziness of adolescence and the realism of the filmmaking. The absence of plot twists keeps viewers fixated on the characters’ hilarious and deceptively deep dialogue, giving us an unfiltered look into the teenage soul at a moment in time.

Unlike two other seminal high school movies, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused skirts pivotal occasions like pregnancy and graduation, focusing instead on the mundane events and conversations we’re most likely to forget. Like those of Heckerling and Hughes, Linklater’s high schoolers are flawed and privileged, irresponsible and irreverent. But rather than showing how they are capable of change, he brings forth their redeeming qualities: self-awareness and loyalty. They’re slackers and thinkers who could not care less about societal progress but would do anything for their friends.

To Linklater, adolescence is the accumulation of fleeting moments that we take for granted–silent drives around town, trivial gossip and aimless musings about life. Over the years, those moments dissolve into the abyss, leaving behind just a shadow of the frustration and optimism we felt in those painfully beautiful years.

The combination of quotable one-liners, quirky characters and nostalgia for the 70s gave Dazed and Confused its lasting legacy and ageless appeal. We remember Wooderson’s pick up line (“Alright, alright, alright.”), Slater’s Martha Washington monologue (“She a hip, hip, hip lady, man!”), and Mitch’s freshman initiation beating. We remember the bell-bottoms and denim overalls, the Aerosmith opener and the Foghat closer.

But more sharply, we remember the sense of familiarity that envelops us when as we consume each scene, mentally flicking through instances in which we’ve said a similar thing or felt a similar way.

Dazed and Confused isn’t inventive or inspiring. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a fond reflection on the American youth culture and how little it has changed in four decades. It reminds us that even as the world becomes unrecognizable, we can still find parts of ourselves in relics from the past. 

Why I Adore Boyhood and Indie Movies in General

Movies and Books

I’ve been wanting to write about both Boyhood and indie flicks for a long time. Since I started blogging, to be quite honest. I kept putting it off because I’m scared of writing reviews on things I love and I’m petrified of failing to meet my own expectations. If I’m excited to blog about something, I expect it to be spectacular (to me, at least). And way too frequently, it’s just not. Anyhow, I’ve decided to just fuck it tonight because it’s so late and I so can’t sleep. I need NyQuil.

So many people hated Boyhood because “nothing happens” and the acting is poor. The first part is technically false but visually true; the second part is 96.9% false. You see, if you’re watching a completed three-hour film obviously something must have happened. A cat farting is something happening. Two people talking about the color of fart is something happening. A boy growing older is something happening. So people claiming “nothing happened” should really just look up the definitions of “things” and “happen” before they open their stupid mouths. Okay, that’s not really fair because the first time I watched it, I too thought, “Why am I so attached to a movie about a some boy going through puberty?” Visially, nothing much really happens at all. There’s no climax (lol), no plot twists, no drama. So yes, Boyhood isn’t your typical Hollywood blockbuster.

But drama does not consist exclusively of action and suspense and noise. It contains tension, emotion, and unexpected changes, none of which have to be coupled with violence or scandal. I think Hollywood blockbusters have trained us into believing that drama and subtlety are mutually exclusive. If your nails don’t dig into the seat rests and your jaws don’t land on the ground at least once, then that movie sucked because “nothing happened.” If you’re neither shocked nor confused nor euphoric nor devastated, then you’ve wasted 1/12 of a day of your life.

The magic of Boyhood is in its realism – its unfiltered, unflinching portrayal of a physical and emotional movement through time. Yes, “nothing happens,” but isn’t that the whole point? Nothing happens when we’re growing up. We just grow up. Literally. Our adolescent years aren’t defined by our first kiss, or the one time we got caught smoking weed, or even graduation. Those are the light posts that illuminate a plain, dark road. That road is our journey, and it’s defined by the mundane moments that we’ve taken granted – awkward silences during family meals, endless arguments about grades, PMSing, getting dressed for school, writing essays deep into the night, talking till dawn with your best friends. And all the laughter and all the tears – you can’t even remember what inspired them but you know they were everywhere during those unforgettable years.

Maybe you’re whipping your head left and right as you’re reading this. Maybe you’re thinking that the definition only covers the highlights, otherwise we’ll never be able to sum up anything succinctly. That’s probably true.

But listen to this: my adolescence is my first kiss, my first drink, my first run in with the cops, and my graduation.

Isn’t that ridiculous? Adolescence (I don’t know exactly when it starts or ends) covers a good decade of our lives. 1/8 of our entire lifespan if we’re lucky enough to die of old age. It should be a struggle to define such a significant period of our existence. Adolescence is a blurry mess of challenges, changes, resentment for parental control, anticipation for college and freedom, and longing for childhood innocence. It’s a plethora of paradoxes. And the only way you define a plethora of paradoxes is by making a three-hour epic over 12 short years. Good luck.

In the end, what I love most about Boyhood…and indie films in general, is that it makes you think twice about the mundane. Boring is a funny word because I don’t think it applies to anything. Calling something boring only confirms our own laziness. If something is complex, call it weird; if something is ordinary, call it dull. It’s so easy to do, and it masks our ignorance. This may be a horrible comparison, but I feel like indie films are the introverts of the film industry. Quirky, quiet, and overshadowed by its louder, more charismatic counterparts. We need indie films as well as introverts, because along with thinkers we need things to make us think.

The Heart Wants What it Wants

Movies and Books

I’m going to hate on chick flicks again. Because that’s what I do when I’m in a bad mood. Actually I’m not even in a particularly bad mood right now; I just want to piss on something, and dumb shit like chick flicks is such an easy target.

Anyhow, my friend and I had a discussion on feminism the other day, and it reminded me of just how fucking sexist chick flicks are. Your typical scenario: girl & boy fall in love, make plans to marry fuck buy a beautiful house have beautiful kids then, BOOM, life happens. Fate sinks its ugly claws into their perfect little love story because that’s what fate always does. So then comes the big fat misunderstanding that normal couples of the lowest intelligence can work out in five secs but somehow torpedoes their supposed unbreakable bond. The rest you can probably recite my heart: boy leaves, girl meets new boy, establishes new life, gets engaged then, BOOM, life happens again. Fate decides to fuck with her pretty little head by dropping her prince charming, whom she supposed got over years and years ago, back into her perfect new world.

Then the ultimate face-off:

At that point is would be absolutely ludicrous to not get back together with him because how can you reject Ryan fucking Gosling when his eyes are pouring into your soul that like?

But it’s totally okay to dump the other dude (the one who, mind you, have stood by your selfish, ungrateful ass all these years while your “soul mate” went MIA on you) at the altar because, hey, the heart wants what it wants, right? If pop culture’s taught us anything, it’s that nothing, not conscience or common sense or filial piety, is more important and more reliable than your gut. Fuck’s sake. I’m sorry, but what kind of fucked up message is that sending to young girls?? Go ahead, follow your fickle, shallow heart and shit all over whoever you decide is ultimately not right for you even if you’ve led him on for years and agreed to marry him. And you only feel bad at it for half a second because deep down you know that, as a member of the privileged female clan, you have the inviolable right to put your desires before the feelings of any other individual. As in, being an ungrateful, backstabbing damsel in distress is what’s expected of a woman. Was that a bit harsh? Yeah, well so is the way Hollywood keeps producing weak, despicable female leads.

Now if a guy were to pull the same shit on a girl, he’d be called an indecisive, insensitive asshole. I would know because that’s exactly what I called my friend’s ex boyfriend. The dumped girl would be painted as the victim, and the girl he went back to the home wrecker. And the whole movie a sexist, offensive piece of shit.

Did I already write a post like this? Probably. Oh well, I guess I’m just always salty.

Guilty Pleasures

Movies and Books

Not all movies become classics. Sure, I wanna watch visually astounding, intellectually stimulating, spiritually transporting masterpieces all the freaking time, but that just isn’t possible. The reality is that only a few movies move us in the way we want every movie to. And we’re never going to be interested in every single critically acclaimed movie anyway (I will literally pick up my dog’s shite with my bare hands than watch another minute of Lincoln). Rarity is what makes great movies that much more special.

Since we can’t be watching exceptional movies all the time, most of us probably spend way too much time on movies we know are huge a waste of our time.

My guilty pleasure is sappy romance movies.

Like, the same sometimes cute, always melodramatic, and never original love stories between a very attractive boy and an equally attractive girl. Say Anything, The Notebook, Titanic, 500 Days of Summer, The Vow, One Day, Her. Wait, no, no, no, not HerThat’s actually an incredibly original and insightful and beautiful film that deserves to be watched by everyone. I’d proudly admit I’m a romance flick junkie if all romance movies are half as fantastic as Her. 500 Days of Summer is pretty decent, too. I’m not saying any of those other ones are particularly bad; it’s just that they’re so predictable and shallow. Love stories are like overcooked cupcakes: the icing is heavenly sweet and always delicious, but the core is scorched by overused catchphrases and plot lines.

But that doesn’t matter, does it? Love is irrational (no pun intended). I don’t even know why I’m attracted to those pointless movies in the first place, and I certainly can’t explain why I keep going back for more.

No matter how many times I hear them, stupid ass lines like this still get me all giddy and euphoric:

And this:

And then there are the classics that I can probably (and probably have) recite in my sleep:


I knew I would regret writing this post as soon as I decided to do it. Goddamn this is embarrassing. My roomie called it, and I might as well admit the obvious: I’m a romantic freak. I mean, come on, I spent most of my high school years obsessing over Nicholas Sparks. NICHOLAS FUCKING SPARKS. Thank God that phase is over or nobody’s ever going to take me seriously as a writer.

As someone who’s pretty much allergic to clichés and melodramatic, lovey-dovey shit, I am honestly quite ashamed to bring to light this perennial guilty pleasure of mine. But dammit it’s so freaking addictive. We all love love. Some more than others, but we all love it. We love the exquisite, invincible feeling of knowing that somebody other than your family members (who are obliged to care about you) will be heartbroken if you were to walk into a knife and die right then and there. If we can’t personally experience that feeling all the time, we might as well vicariously live it through somebody else, even if they’re just acting.

So that’s a little Confession Sunday for you. Sometimes confession’s good for the soul; sometimes it’s just a painful reminder that you haven’t quite outgrown the person you foolishly thought you’ve become too good for. This is the latter case.

Inside Spirited Away

Daily Prompts, Movies and Books

My favorite movie is Spirited Away, Miyazaki’s 2001 animated masterpiece. Here’s a brief summary for those who have never seen the movie: ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents are driving to their new home when they get lost and wander through an old tunnel into this beautiful, deserted town that, at first glance, appears very normal. They stumble upon this traditional outdoor eatery with a plethora of the most orgasmic fucking food you can imagine. I’m just gonna show you this gif instead of describing it:

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Anyway, being the fat asses that we all would be, Chihiro’s parents sit their fat asses down and start shoving everything they can into their drooling mouths. Not long after, they transform into pigs. To save them and return home, Chihiro ventures into this wondrous and scary world of spirits and witches and talking animals. My words do not and can never do justice to this movie: it’s 120 minutes of magical, visceral epiphany.

Spirited Away has become synonymous with my childhood, but the sad thing is that even if I do have the pleasure of entering Chihiro’s world, I probably wouldn’t last a day. I’d do exactly what Chihiro’s parents did and spend the rest of my life as a pig, because I doubt anyone would love me enough to go through all the shit Chihiro did to turn me back into a human being. But if I do manage to control my insatiable appetite, I’d just follow Chihiro everywhere – from Yubaba’s glorious bathhouse for the spirits to Kamaji’s boiler room to that eery water train. I want to watch her navigate through the labyrinth of Miyazaki’s imagination with her childlike curiosity and courage. Chihiro represents an era of my life so long gone that I doubt I can still recognize as mine. Watching Spirited Away, no matter at what age, always reminds me of the thrill and optimism I felt as a kid. Chihiro reminds me of the girl I was ten years ago, innocent and reckless and selfless. I could never be that girl again…I’m not even sure I really want to, but I miss her. And I miss being a stupid kid with stupid dreams.

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Reader’s Block

Daily Prompts, Movies and Books

I have a sort of abusive relationship with books. At times I would tear through half a dozen of them in a couple of weeks then not touch another one for two months. After school ended in May, I didn’t read anything for about six weeks or so; from late July to September, I read ten. Since I have such an erratic reading schedule, I don’t remember the longest reading drought I’ve ever gone through. I’ve gone as long as three months but never longer than half a year. The most recent drought started in mid-May because I was just fucking exhausted after reading a plethora of literary classics and textbooks for my humanities classes. For all I knew, I never wanted to see another book for the rest of my life. I’m kidding, but most of my classes required me to read a 400-page monster every week, and a year of that is more than enough for even the most dedicated book lover.

Anyhow, the book that broke the six-week dry spell is John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. Back in early 2013 I binge-read all of John Green’s solo works in a few weeks, in reverse order: The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska. Newest to oldest. After that I didn’t really think about him again until the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars came out. Amid all that movie fandom craze, I realized that I somehow neglected to read Katherines (and I still don’t understand John Green’s penchant for long ass titles). My good friend told me that it’s the geekiest and most cheerful of all his books, so I decided to give it a try. Reading again after so long was kind of weird at first, a bit like going on a first date with your best friend’s ex. Like, you know it so well but it’s still awkward as fuck. The first fifty pages went by really slowly, and the whole time I kept getting distracted by Netflix and food and Facebook chat, but then the story picked up and I got swept away by the magic of fiction once again. I finished the last 200 pages in the same amount of time as I did the first 50. It’s not my favorite John Green book, but it’s quirky and insightful. More importantly, it got me into another binge-reading frenzy that lasted more than eight weeks.

Last Words

Movies and Books, Musings/Rants

I was actually planning to blog about something totally different today, but about five minutes ago I saw a picture of Neil Patrick Harris on Instagram, which reminded me of How I Met Your Mother…which pissed me off at first (because THE FINALE) but then brought me back to that episode in which Marshall’s dad died of a heart attack. Yep, out of all the hilarious and hilariously awful episodes, that’s the one that I remembered. I’m sorry, my mind just goes off on a thousand tangents at the smallest things. But anyway, in the episode following his father’s death, Marshall struggles to find and accept the final words his father said to him. He thought it was a spoken conversation at first, then it turned out to be a phone call, and then it ended up being a voice mail message. That’s not really the point, though. What’s important was that Marshall kept believing that his father’s last words must have been something particularly poignant. And in the end, it’s not. It’s just him saying something about a video game (or was it a pizza?). So Marshall goes through this sorta cathartic experience of learning that one’s last words don’t really define one’s legacy. It’s probably the only truly somber episode in all nine seasons of HIMYM.

So that got me thinking about death. How cheerful, I know. But really, I think it’s fascinating that we’re so preoccupied with the idea of last words and legacy and returning back to the dirt with a big fucking bang. On the one hand, death is so scary and final that we don’t really wanna think or talk about. But on the other hand, it’s hard not to wonder how we would leave this earth and who would actually remember or miss us. I think we’re less scared about dying than the idea of dying alone and unremembered, which basically indicates that our existence didn’t mean jack shit. John Green talks a lot about this whole dying/existence thing in The Fault in Our Stars, which I beg you to read if you haven’t already.

Anyway, I don’t think we’re being fair on ourselves my putting so much emphasis on the end. I always find it bizarre when people get moved to tears by those cheesy endings to melodramatic movies: when the abusive dad who mistreated his son his entire life lies on his death bed and says some bullshit like, “I should have treated you better,” and then cries a ton and dies. Somehow that makes everything okay and changes his child’s impression of him. Instead of a selfish, violent alcoholic, his dad is now a compassionate, misunderstood man who has always loved his poor kid. The fuck? I just think there’s something so fundamentally fucked up about that logic, about the idea that our last seconds can change an image we spent our entire lives building.

Maybe that’s pop culture’s way of giving us what we they think we deserve – a happy ending in which everyone wins. But I think we deserve better. I think we deserve to know that the lives we lead are meaningful enough that they can’t be undone by a sentence on the death bed. If you’ve been a shitty person your entire fucking life then one final regretful apology is far from enough. If you’ve been an awesome person your whole life then leaving anonymously shouldn’t be a shame at all. Of course it would be fucking legendary (or just fucking morbid) to say, “I want to be choked to death by a goat,” and then actually die like that an hour later. But how many of us actually get to predict our deaths? Movies and books glorify final moments so much that we’re made to believe that our ends are more important than our beginnings and our peaks. I’m not sure that’s the right way to live life.

Movie Preview: If I Stay

Movies and Books

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So apparently in less than a month, there will be an influx of distraught, self-proclaimed If I Stay fans who have never read the book. That is a honestly a horrifying prospect.

I read Gayle Forman’s If I Stay a little over four years ago, which is around a year after its release. So I remember the days when the book only had like 200 reviews on Amazon. Now it’s up to like 1500, I believe. I admit it does suck a little to feel not as hipster anymore. Anyway, I can still clearly recall that one sad, sad night in which those malevolent 200 pages knifed me to death, ripping my heart out of my fucking ribcage and tearing it into bloody meat balls. That actually sounds fucking delicious. But seriously, I was niagara-falling the entire two hours that I spent curled up under my blanket flipping through those damned pages with my shaking hands. Goddammit.

I don’t think I need to explain further the psychological trauma that book inflicted on my fragile psyche. The plot itself is simple enough. Seventeen year old Mia is a prodigious cello player with a bright future at Juilliard, chill as fuck parents, an adorable kid brother called Teddy, and a sexy, rock star boyfriend, Adam. Then one cold winter morning, fate decides to sink its rotten, grotesque teeth into her beautiful life by dropping a stupid, fat pickup truck into an already treacherous icy road on which Mia and her family were driving to see some relatives (it’s been four years since I last read the book, so I’m not 100% sure if the last part is entirely accurate). So fate and the stupid truck kill Mia’s parents and her little brother, leaving her with a bunch of broken limbs and in a coma. She immediately gets into some sort of out-of-body state in which her spirit leaves her unconscious body and experiences all the chaos occurring in the ER around her. She eventually realizes that she has a choice live or die; staying means Adam and music and a future, leaving means reunion with her parents and brother.

Since the movie hasn’t been released yet, I can only judge what’s to come in the two-minute trailer. The casting is by no means awful, and I do think Chloe Moretz’s acting is strong enough to carry the film (btw, since when did the girl become so hot?? Remember her in Hugo?). But there’s something about the trailer that seems just so chick flick to me. I don’t mean no disrespect to chick flicks at all, but If I Stay is NOT a fucking chick flick. It’s about a girl grappling with the void left by her family’s death, torn between a irretrievable past filled with joy and love and a bleak future filled with loss and uncertainty. I don’t know if the movie can capture the poignant contrast between the happy flashbacks and the agonizing present. The turmoil in Mia’s narration just can’t be conveyed through freaking voice over. And here’s the thing that bugs me the most: Adam’s presence is in no way the only reason for Mia to stay and live. He is in no way the only silver lining in a life without her parents and brother. Her love for music has the far greater influence, and I have horrible feeling that it’s going to get tragically overshadowed by the trendier, more relatable theme of teenage love.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discouraging anyone from watching the movie. In fact, I’m going to watch it as soon as it comes out. I just wanted to point out some of the most glaring flaws in recent movie adaptations of best-selling YA novels. The profound, complicated themes too often get buried under more typical, tangible ones. Images can’t replace words; they can only simplify and dramatize. One can only cram a limited portion of the original material into an 120 minute motion picture, and it’s much more convenient to translate the most recognizable themes onto film. So rather ironically, watching a movie can never produce the same startling, visceral experience as reading a book for the first time. And reading something as insightful and poignant as If I Stay AFTER watching a dramatically simplified movie version of it is like…I don’t know, watching the replay of the World Cup final after you already knew that your favorite team got crushed. I apologize for that awful analogy, but you get my point. Read the damn book before you watch the movie. It’s an experience you don’t want to throw away.