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The Scroll

No. 10: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Total recall

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2004, dir. Michel Gondry. In a word, Judaism is this: Remember! From the Holocaust to the destruction of the Temple, we spend much of our communal life recalling catastrophes and glories past. For that reason, equally tempting is the possibility of forgetting—of shedding the burden of history, of beginning anew. This is the premise at the heart of so much of 20th-century Jewish American art—all those nice boys turning their backs on their shtetlized roots, eager to assimilate. And it’s the premise, quite literally, of Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

What if, Kaufman asks, you could have your memories erased? What if you could go to sleep and wake up relieved of traumas and heartaches? Jim Carey takes the plunge, in an effort to overcome his breakup with Kate Winslet. And like every young, libidinous Jewish man this side of Portnoy, he learns that it’s not so easy to avoid destiny. Nor, in fact, is it necessarily desirable.

Michel Gondry’s sleek, post-modern touch deracinated this fundamentally Jewish tale quite a bit, but some stark reminders are impossible to avoid. For one thing, almost everyone Carey interacts with—from Winslet’s Clementine Kruczynski to Tom Wilkinson’s Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, the doctor who performs the memory erasure procedure—is of Polish descent. Add to that one scene too many on a train, and you’ve got the modern Jewish experience in one weird, beautiful film.

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Michael M says:

Including films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Citizen Kane that have only a very tenuous connection, at best, with Judaism widens the criteria so much that pretty much any serious Hollywood film can be included. Thus, this list seems more of a “Jewish person’s Favorite 100 Movies” list than an actual Jewish movies list. While I certainly agree defining Jewish films would be a lesson in futility, there must be more reasonable criteria. Nobody watches the two movies I named and think “Jewish film!”. But people watching Yentl or Schindler’s List certainly do. There’s a compromise to be made, but not like this.

If you’re nomiating films like this then you may as well nominate Star Wars – because it is about a battle between good and evil. Or maybe the Curious Case of Benjamin Button – because it explores the idea of aging and Jewish people get old.

Jay Nathanson says:

What?! No Frisco Kid?! As a nine-year-old Jewish Star Wars fan I was thrilled to see my beloved Han Solo in a movie about a rabbi. I haven’t seen the movie in 30 years, so, it’s probably not nearly as good as I remember it being, but surely any film with Harrison Ford and Gene Wilder deserves to be on the list…

Sergio Marzetti says:

I remember a movie which touched me many years ago. The two actors were the jew Danny Kaye and the German colonel Curd Jurgens. Where would you classify “Me and the Colonel”?, a movie which I’d like to see again?

Allan G. says:

Where’s ‘Requiem for a Dream’? When one sees what else you’ve included – it speaks volumes that a great movie, made by a Jewish Director, with 3 of the 4 main characters being Jews played by Jewish actors wasn’t Jewish enough.

(Not to mention the ‘waiting-for-the-impossible-dream-of-the-Messiah’ spin you could put on it).

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No. 10: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Total recall

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