The Westdale has a spotlight on Science Fiction (SF) this month and is screening two films as part of it: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I have seen both, and am delighted that they are being screened locally. While the consumption of cinema has changed dramatically so that films are easily accessible and able to be enjoyed at home, there is nothing quite like settling into a seat at a theatre, munching on pieces of popcorn and experiencing that excitement when the lights are dimmed, the massive screen and top sound system enveloping you while a story unfolds.
At the core of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an experience familiar to most of us: a painful romantic breakup. After Clementine (Kate Winslet) signs up for a futuristic, SF procedure that will erase her ex, Joel (Jim Carrey), from her memory, Joel decides to undergo the same process to forget Clementine. As he experiences the erasure, the film brings us into Joel’s memories of their relationship, from meet cute to breakup, calling into question how important all our experiences are for our future selves, no matter how painful they might be. It is a dreamy, at times jarring film with gorgeous cinematography and editing, the script by Charlie Kaufman an expert blending of science fiction with reality.
While the technology of targeting specific memories to erase seemed like outlandish science fiction 18 years ago, the astronomical advancement of technology, and the continued development and honing of artificial intelligence, makes viewing Sunshine in 2022 feel less far-fetched and more, perhaps uneasily, believable. This amplifies the existential question at the heart of the film as the actions onscreen seem less impossible and more probable in a not-to-distant future: if we could erase parts of our past from our minds, should we? How far is too far when it comes to manipulating nature via technological means?
The Westdale’s other offering, 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely recognized as one of the most celebrated and influential films of all time. Inspired by the writings of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, director Stanley Kubrick and Clarke came together to write the film’s script, which follows two astronauts as they head off on a space mission along with their ship’s computer system, HAL 9000. During the journey, HAL begins to act unexpectedly, culminating in a face-off between humans and technology.
Kubrick’s directing prowess brought to cinemas a grand space experience unlike any that had graced the silver screen. While this masterpiece can certainly be enjoyed at home, being immersed in a dark theatre, the strains of classical music filling the space as epic images and ground-breaking special effects mesmerize the audience is an unparalleled experience. 2001 ruminates on the idea of God, the Self, A.I., examining how these all work, or don’t work, in tandem with one another. Not unlike Sunshine, the film spotlights technology’s potential devastating impact on humans, while simultaneously recognizing its tremendous positive influence. Released even before the moon landing, Kubrick and Clarke were ahead of their time with writing this gorgeous script filled with outer space imagery, humanity and God.
The Westdale is screening Sunshine on Wednesday, August 10 at 7:00 p.m. and 2001 on Saturday, August 20 at 9 p.m., and again on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.