There are a few simple reasons why Hollywood and its filmmakers continue to attempt to perfect the sci-fi/romance genre. Before the epic films Titanic and Avatar (a romance, and sci-fi film written and directed by James Cameron) became the two highest grossing movies ever made, Back to the Future, released in 1985, changed the perception of viewers all over the world of what films could do. For the first time in history, time travel was presented in a way that seemed absolutely real with groundbreaking visual-effects. Going along with that were two hilarious love stories told through the great performances of Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, and others. It is evident that Back to the Future, the critical and commercial success, continues to inspire films to this day.
Not to be a downer, but I believe people are generally unhappy with their day-to-day lives. It wouldn’t be surprising if a dentist or a waiter tended to have daydreams of themselves in places or scenarios which are more gratifying to them. Often, people use film as a safe sort of escape to fulfill fantasies. A lonely teenage girl might watch Titanic to feel like they’re a nude Rose (Kate Winslet) being painted by Jack (Leonardo Dicaprio). Or a teenage nerd might see Avatar to feel as if they’re in a new world completely alien to them.
The point is, every type of film from, something pornographic to something dramatic, has a purpose. Opening to decent reviews (65% on Rotten Tomatoes), About Time, the new sci-fi/romance film starring Rachel McAdams gives further evidence that this fusion-genre continues to put out consistently interesting work despite its rarity. The general public saw Avatar and Titanic as films which provide ultimate freedom from the hardships of real life. Romance films and science-fiction films serve as an illusory device to moviegoers, so combining the genres can potentially make the ultimate fantasy.
The highly underrated Vanilla Sky (a remake of the Spanish, Abre los ojos) is an example of a film that does exactly that. Though critical reception was originally mixed, the film has now reached cult status and is considered among director Cameron Crowe’s best work along with Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. In the film, Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a rich, handsome bachelor and owner of a successful publishing firm. Aames is man who has virtually everything he could possibly want – a oyal best friend, luxury cars, a gorgeous apartment, and a consistent rotation of one night stands. The movie begins with a now iconic nightmare sequence of David running around Times Square with absolutely no human beings around, implying that David is truly isolated inside despite all of his material things. Motivated by this feeling, Aames falls in love with Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz) on his birthday. This is to the dismay of one of David’s one night stands, the beautiful Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), who kills herself and nearly David in a car crash. Long story short, David fails in winning Sofia and commits suicide. But before he dies, he agrees to cryogenically preserve his body post death (just like Walt Disney), and the second half of the movie is a mysterious, nightmarish dream sequence that you understand once the film ends. Those who’ve seen Vanilla Sky (and most importantly are fans) know that it’s a movie that sticks in the mind and never leaves. Aside from the superficiality of the romance and beautiful set design, underneath it all is an array of deeper meanings. The film has loads to say on the capability of dreams, alternate realities, mental illness, material goods, etc.
Vanilla Sky is a truly great movie but Eternal Sunshine is perhaps the greatest sci-fi/romance film ever made, as it transcends the fusion genre in even more ways than Vanilla Sky does. Often, Charlie Kaufman scripts (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) offer an odd, psychological look into the human experience. Michel Gondry’s direction (The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind) usually employ a goofy, cartoonish look at the world. With a film such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the two combine both of their unusual aesthetic styles to make a nearly perfect, dreamy heartbreaking film. Both tap into the exact wants of a few groups of people. Shy introverted people, or those going through hard breakups, might find solace in watching the mind of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) erase the memory of extroverted Clementine (Kate Winslet). Though at times depressing for escaping life in a way that’s both romantic and imaginative, Eternal Sunshine is flawless. The scenes of Joel’s adolescent and adult memories messily combining are unbelievably unique, humorous, and relatable. Specifically, there’s the scene where he remember himself as a teenager. After Joel’s mother walks in on him masturbating to cartoon porn, he implements the memory of Clementine in bed with him (in a non sexual manner). All of a sudden, they’re on that same bed but now amazingly in the middle of a beach. This is a couple that shared many great moments and this scene is one which makes Joel realize what he is really losing when he decides to erase the memory of her.
Working off from Back to the Future’s unique capabilities, Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine are just two examples of how far the genre has come. They have proved with their humanistic and creative ways of looking at the world that the science-fiction/romance genre can do so much more and speak to audiences in a way far more profound than most films can even come close to. I haven’t seen About Time, but after every experience I’ve had watching sci-fi/romance films, I have expectations for something entertaining, educational, and moving. The more you watch of these kinds of films, the more you understand what great things they’re capable of making a viewer experience.
Article by David Samuels