yesterday andy and i went to see your new movie, eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. we were late getting there, so we only caught two previews: one for laws of attraction, or: gee, do you think the two main characters will end up together despite their initial conflict?, and one for door in the floor, or: jeff bridges is the dude in every single movie, even if it’s a drama. please, charlie kaufman, don’t ever make any romantic comedies or coming-of-age dramas, okay?
the movie started. since nobody sees movies at one p.m. on a monday, the only other person in the theatre was an old bearded man sitting two rows in front of us. he was eating popcorn. the three of us watched jim carrey wake up, drive his beat-up car to the train station, and board the montauk train instead of the new york one. there was no sound at all. jim carrey walked on the beach, sat on the steps, wrote in his journal. there was still no sound. jim carrey drank coffee in a diner as kate winslet watched him from afar, all in complete silence.
i could hear the bearded man in front of us chewing on his popcorn, swallowing it, reaching into the bag for more, chewing, swallowing, reaching. as silent jim and silent kate stood together on the train platform, i thought about why you might have wanted your movie to have no sound at the beginning. i wondered what this part of the movie would have sounded like if there actually were sound. i wondered if you thought about people like me in theatres, trying to watch a movie with no sound but hearing a man eating popcorn instead. chewing. swallowing. reaching.
when silent jim and kate began to mouth words at one another, we realized that there was a technical problem. the bearded man stood up and headed for the exit.
“so is it messed up or what?” i asked the room in general.
i hope so,” said the bearded man. “i can’t read lips.”
i guess he’s going to go tell someone to fix it,” i said after he’d left.
“probably,” andy said. onscreen, jim and kate introduced themselves, mouthing their names and shaking hands. “i didn’t even know there was supposed to be sound until they started talking.”
me, either,” i said. “i thought the silence was really interesting.”
so did i,” andy said.
just then, the sound came on. “oh! there it is,” i said. “i wonder if they’ll start it over.”
the bearded man came back in. “when did the sound start?” he asked us.
“just now,” i said. “i think they should start it over. if they don’t start it over, i’m going to ask for my money back.”
the bearded man sat down, and i waited a moment, but they didn’t start it over. as we watched joel and clementine (those were their names, we learned) talk on the train, i debated getting up and going to ask them to start the movie over again. but i didn’t get up.
“this isn’t so bad,” andy whispered to me. “it’s like we got here late or something.”
i nodded. “we’re just going see it again anyway,” i whispered back. so i didn’t get up.
(the fall of 2002, you should know, was a great time for andy and me at the movies. we saw the hours, punch-drunk love, bowling for columbine, about schmidt, far from heaven *, and your own adaptation. several of these movies we saw twice in the theatre, they were just that good.
as far as great-years-for-movies in my adult life go, 2002 is right up there with 1999, which had american beauty, the sixth sense, fight club, being john malkovich, the end of the affair, magnolia, boys don’t cry, and election. i saw some of those twice in the theatre as well. both andy and i are notorious repeat-theatregoers; that’s how we already knew we’d see your movie twice before we even saw it once.)
anyway, i never got up. i never asked them to start the movie over again, nor did i ask for my money back. i forgot all about it, in fact, until somewhere near the end of the movie, when joel woke up and drove his beat-up car to the train station and it became clear that the scene we’d watched without sound at the beginning was going to be repeated. when i saw it coming, i was so excited that i bounced a little in my seat and pantomimed clapping my hands together. andy smiled. we watched the scene, this time with sound.
“i totally don’t want my money back at all,” i said as we walked out of the theatre.
“me either,” andy said.
i don’t know how the bearded man felt about it, but andy and i decided that we were better off having seen the first ten minutes of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind the way we did. without sound, we were forced to examine each character’s movements more closely than we would have otherwise. without sound, the only information we had about joel and clementine came from their body language, their facial expressions, their eyes. and that, i think, said more about your characters than a thousand running footsteps, speeding trains, dialing telephones, or crashing waves would ever have done.
thank you, charlie kaufman. i just wanted you to know.
p.s. but jesus, the next time you make a movie and include a scene so incredibly similar to something i’ve done before, warn me in advance, okay? it really freaked me the fuck out.