Tag Archives: eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Here Comes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Recently I became aware of a character type: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She can be found in movies, TV, and even literature. Many sources converged to make me aware of this phenomenon at approximately the same time. First it was this post on John Green’s Tumblr. That led to the TV Tropes article on the subject. And finally, TV Tropes referred me to a Feminist Frequency video.

I should pause here to tell you exactly what a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is. TV Tropes defines the MPDG as a quirky female character who breezes into the hero’s life and breaks him out of his humdrum existence. The trope is often linked to characters played by Zooey Deschanel. I was intrigued to find that many of my favorite movies have examples of Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters: Clementine (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Almost Famous, and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in (500) Days of Summer.

To make it clear that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl definition is still up for grabs, there are arguments for all three of these characters being imperfect or subverted examples of the MPDG. Still, when three of my favorite movies are mentioned in discussions of the same character type, I start to ask questions. Apparently this is an idea that I find appealing, however subconsciously. Does that mean that I aspire to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Or do I desire to date some male equivalent?

You may wonder why I find this a bit troubling. Well, Feminist Frequency is happy to explain. From a feminist standpoint, the MPDG has some problematic implications for women. Most notably, the MPDG is rarely the central focus of the story. Instead she serves as a catalyst for the male protagonist’s growth. It’s “woman as muse,” and I think we can all agree that women have more to offer to the world than just inspiration for men. Additionally, the MPDG’s quirks are often disguising a very two-dimensional character.

One night my friend Jenny and I were discussing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. By some coincidence of the universe, we had both become aware of it in the preceding week. On this same evening, I also showed her a blog that I like called A Beautiful Mess. The blog features a lot of cute fashion and do-it-yourself projects. Jenny’s first comment was “This is basically the Manic Pixie Dream Girl blog.” I hadn’t made the connection until then, but she was absolutely right! Yet another example of my subconscious Manic Pixie Dream Girl fixation!

I found this photo on A Beautiful Mess that I think sums up MPDG in a single image:

That’s Elsie Larson, the creator of the blog, and her husband. Observe his stoic but amused attitude toward her. Observe her colored tights and quirky umbrella. Even her pose says, “I am here to bring whimsy into your life!”

But here’s the thing. Elsie Larson may don the MPDG persona, but she’s also an intensely creative and successful businesswoman. In short, she’s a three-dimensional human being. And so am I, as it turns out.

Tropes are not inherently bad; they help us tell stories. Even when storytellers utilize tropes, they must tweak them to fit the needs of their story. That’s why none of the three characters I mentioned can perfectly fit the MPDG definition. They meet some of the criteria but not all. Arguing over definitions is much less interesting, I think, than considering why a trope exists. What purpose does it serve in our collective imagination? And what does it say about us as people?



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Best of 2011: Movie Edition, Part 1

We have arrived at what I consider the main event. Why? Because thanks to Netflix, I’ve seen many movies in the past year and was able to come up with a competitive top 10. For your viewing pleasure, here are numbers 10 through 6.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — I was late to the party, but man, was I happy to get there. Kate Winslet is kooky and awesome! Jim Carrey can act! And most incredibly, I watched this movie seven years after its release, and it still felt fresh. More lengthy musings are available here.

Tangled — It’s a well-documented fact that I’m a sucker for animation in general and Disney/Pixar in particular. Hence the studio’s first appearance on the list for this surprisingly delightful movie that brought me back to my Disney-princess-loving childhood. Even my mom gives it her seal of approval. (Not to point fingers, but one of us got choked up at the end.) Once again, you can read more in this post, if you so desire.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — I had the opportunity to watch many wonderful films when I took Intro to CAMS last winter. (And, okay, a couple really boring films too.) It was hard to pick which ones belonged on this list. It came down to a choice between two Jimmy Stewart films, and even Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t enough to beat Liberty Valance. I mean, Jimmy Stewart is awesome always and probably one of my favorite human beings to watch on-screen. I just love the physicality of his acting. The way one side of his body goes limp during the shoot-out? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve bored describing that scene. And I haven’t even mentioned John Wayne! Just go watch it, please.

The FighterOkay, it’s no secret to the girls who lived with me that I was going through a Mark Wahlberg phase last spring. Like, I thought it was really funny to watch YouTube clips of interviews from his Marky Mark days. On the list of Bostonian men who are close to my heart, he is second only to Matt Damon. But I digress! I don’t like boxing even a little bit, which is all the more reason to take me seriously when I say that I looooooove this movie. There’s a reason that it won both supporting actor and actress Oscars. This cast is phenomenal. I especially have to give credit to Amy Adams for playing against type and nailing it.

Inglourious Basterds — I’m a little embarrassed that I like this movie because it’s so violent. Then again, it got its fair share of Oscar nods, so judge me if you will. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Quentin Tarantino rewrite history. We’ve all seen World War II movies, but never like this. It’s a potent mixture of humor and violence and poignancy. Anyone who’s seen the film will remember the first scene. Christoph Waltz, as an officer responsible for locating Jews in Nazi-occupied France, is interviewing a dairy farmer concerning the whereabouts of his Jewish neighbors. The scene goes from slight discomfort to horrible realization for the viewer, and it will have you hooked for the next two hours.

Check back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Kate Winslet, Have I Loved

As alluded to in a previous post, I love Kate Winslet. She’s hands-down my favorite actress and just an all-around cool chick. When I first got Netflix, I immediately added several of her movies to my queue. Now that I’m more caught up on her recent performances, I thought it would be fun to rank them. Honestly, it would be too difficult to make this list based only on her performance, so I’m using my opinions on the movies as a whole. For more information about each movie, click on the image!

7. Little Children

Being at the bottom of this list is still pretty good. Heck, Kate got an Oscar nomination for this role. (Then again, the same could be said for most of these movies.) And she wears a killer red bathing suit. That being said, I had trouble developing sympathy for the main characters.

6. Revolutionary Road

I just watched this last night, so I’m still decided how I feel about it. Kate’s performance is the definition of haunting, particularly in her final scene. I just felt like she has played similar characters in more interesting movies. It was also kind of weird to see her and Leonardo DiCaprio constantly yelling at each other. I miss Jack and Rose! Don’t get me wrong though — the 1950s fashion is to die for.

5. The Holiday

This is a total guilty pleasure movie, and the fact that I’m ranking it above two movies with Oscar nominations is perhaps absurd. Yes, the Cameron Diaz/Jude Law half of the movie is at times difficult to tolerate, mainly because of Cameron Diaz’s character being high-strung in the least endearing way. Just ignore them and watch Kate and Jack Black, who are delightful! Even if you don’t like Jack Black’s comedy, I think he’s charming in this role.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Since I’ve already reviewed this movie, I won’t go into much detail. I love the concept and the cast. I love seeing Kate acting like a kooky American.

3. Titanic

I recently caught part of this on TV, and — wow. Do you guys remember how great this movie is?! When she breaks his handcuffs with the axe? When she spits in the rich guy’s face? So great! Plus Kate excels at being snobby in the first act. It may have tainted Revolutionary Road for me, but it’s so worth it.

2. The Reader

Entertainment Weekly claimed that Kate should have won an Oscar for Titanic instead of The Reader. And to them I say, dream on! I love this book, and the movie absolutely does it justice. I’m pretty sure my heart actually ached while I was watching it. Kate’s role is a challenging one, and she plays it with the perfect mix of hardness and humanity.

1. Sense and Sensibility

Okay, my English major is showing again. We love our Jane Austen, and this is easily my favorite film adaptation of her novels. Granted, Kate’s character is not always likeable, but she really embodies the spirit of Marianne Dashwood. Add to that the genius of Emma Thompson, and you can’t lose. Yes, they wear silly bonnets, but I don’t care! It’s hilarious, touching, and beautifully shot by Ang Lee. For the win.

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Gettin’ Philosophical with Jim Carrey

Last night I was feeling particularly lazy, so I decided to watch a movie on Netflix Instant. Several movies have been in my Instant Queue since I got Netflix in January. The one I chose was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Just a little behind the times, I know. How could I, a Kate Winslet fan, have never seen this movie from 2004? The answer is Jim Carrey. I just don’t like him very much. Even though I knew this was a dramatic role, I never felt motivated to go out and rent the movie. But now, as it sat on my computer, free for the taking, I wanted to give it a shot. For Kate!

I found that I actually liked Jim Carrey in the movie, instead of liking the movie in spite of him. His physicality translated quite well into the melancholy main character. Give him a shaggy haircut and he becomes a sad puppy dog! There was only one moment when I thought, “Oh no, he’s reverting to Ace Ventura,” but it passed quickly and mercifully. Kate Winslet was wonderful, as usual. Then again, I’m obviously biased in her favor. I loved how her character is (literally) a splash of color against a drab landscape through the movie.

As the IMDB link will tell you, the basic plot is that a couple decides to erase their memories of each other after an ugly breakup. (Bring your tolerance for science-fiction or don’t bother coming.) It reminded me of several films that have come after it: Inception and (500) Days of Summer, one of my favorites in recent years. Inception because the memory-erasing scenes reminded me of the dream sequences. Both processes are complicated enough that a person might be inspired to watch a second time, just trying to figure out exactly what happened. (500) Days of Summer because of the nonlinear storytelling paired with an honest look at the disintegration of a relationship. It’s rather unsettling to see the beginning of a relationship when you know how it will end. The end seems to echo the beginning, at least when constructed by screenwriters.

I appreciate that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made me think. The obvious question to viewers is whether they would erase someone from their memory if they could. Right after a breakup, I can imagine that being a very tempting option. The film makes a very good counterpoint, which is that you would have to lose the good memories along with the bad. It seems to me that the best and worst memories often involve the same people because those are the people you care about the most. My first reaction, though, was that you would lose all the lessens learned from that experience. Then wouldn’t you just repeat the same mistakes? I’ll keep the perspective, thanks!


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