ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

With a Love that will Echo through the Ages
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(Note: Parts of this article originally appeared in a Sept 2007 entry on the Acidemic blog site)

The idea of reincarnation is nothing new, and has been more or less proven (as much as such a thing can be proven) through the many documented instances of children remembering past lives, right down to addresses, relatives, birth marks. Whether or not you choose to believe in the concept, it's fascinating and has led to many interesting films, the most recent of which is Michel Gondry's ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2001).

The moving part of that film lies in the concept of lovers through time, meeting and re-meeting each other over and over again through the ages... though SUNSHINE does not employ the idea of reincarnation as such, the device used is very reminiscent... hauntingly echoing past life romances such as SHE (1935) and THE MUMMY (1932).

The plot of SUNSHINE involves Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as lovers who use an experimental mind erasing company to remove painful memories of their relationship. And yet, they seek each other out, over and over again. But is this love like the love Boris Karloff has for his princess in 1932’s THE MUMMY?

In MUMMY, Im-Ho-Tep (Karloff) goes all out for lovely Zita Johann, even stealing the secret scroll of Thoth to impress her. For his troubles he gets mummified alive in a flashback that spans the ages, and a huge chunk of the center of the film. It’s a stately affair, brilliantly filmed by ace cinematographer Karl Freund.

Zita Joann plays his lost princess from the days of ancient Egypt, now reincarnated as a jumpy, cat-eyed English girl of high social position, Helen Grosvenor. Johann is an interesting screen presence: she actually seems to be a reincarnated entity of some sort, a cat maybe, and she exhibits more than the requisite spookiness that her character would seem to demand although it seems an accident. Naturally, Ardath Bey alias Im-Ho-Tep has no problem seeing right through the veils of time to spot his beloved princess reincarnated into this woman, who--alas is stuck on one of those “juveniles” (David Manners) that still haunt the screen today, via the WB, Plus, she’s in Egypt with her father… and they recognize Ardath Bey from the old expedition, some years before.
She (1935)
Reverse the formula and you have SHE, starring Helen Gahagan, a stoic, humorless and therefore (to me) strangely sexy woman. "She" is immortal because she bathes in the art-deco fountain of youth. To get there you have to climb over various rocky architectural leftovers from producer Ernest B. Schodeshack’s previous film, KING KONG (1933).

Randolph Scott is a rugged explorer who discovers She and her art deco fountain and hordes of slaves and nubile servants high in the Arctic. Perhaps she is related somehow to Im-Ho-Tep because she rules her subjects with the broad statement, “I am past, present, and future; I am sorrow and longing and hope unfulfilled. I am Hash-a-Mo-Tep, She who must be obeyed.” Together, they're the immortal Tep would make quite a musical!

The "longing and sorrow" in her statement is for her lover, dead these many aeons, who she find reincarnated in intrepid explorer Randolph Scott. Scott's got a David Manners of his own to cling to, played by Helen Mack. Like Johann's British lassie, Scott's square-jawed explorer prefers this little scrapper, to the eternal dignity of SHE.

All this can either seem like some mid-life crisis fantasy (“my true love is no longer in my 45 year old wife, but has left her mortal husk and flown into the pleasing shape of this 19-year old homewrecker”) or it can seem like hope for a love beyond romantic expectation waiting for us across the veil of time.

We see this later with ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. This time, thanks to a device which pinpoints and erases painful romantic memories, just about everyone in the cast is discovering their lost loves through the veils of time, but in this case, time is only a few days at most. Time is in fact, fluid and repeatable. Carrey is able to run through past memories, painful and pleasurable, chased by a giant metaphorical eraser. What makes this a different sort of timeless love has a lot to do with the nature of society and its changing mores. In the permissive 1990s of SUNSHINE there is no "normal" rival for the undead lover's affection, and thank God. Who, in reality, wants the David Manners or the Helen Mack to win out? The idea that any sane adventurer would sacrifice immortality and enduring love for some banal suburban prison was one only a Joseph Breen or Will Hayes would want to inflict.

I hope one day my beautiful soul mate will read these words and something will click in her head and she’ll "remember" me. You hear it a lot in movies when the lovers are first falling into each other's arms. Henry Fonda in THE LADY EVE says to Barbara Stanwyck: "I feel like I've known you all my life, and before that, even..." I get that way looking at Naomi Watts sometimes, and Helen Gahagan too, while we’re at it. I don’t get that way looking at Zita Johann, though. Not my type. But ultimately is this how our types are chosen? Is my memory of comforting Miss Gahagan after her career sank (due to SHE bombing at the box office) real or false? IMDB tells me that she entered politics after this and eventually lost a seat in a congress bid against old Dick Nixon. You can see archive footage of her in action against Tricky D. in Oliver Stone’s film, NIXON. That seems like a scary prospect, though. To imagine SHE who is eternally young getting old…and being in NIXON!

In other news, I’ve noticed my hair-line receded again. One never actually sees it recede, you know. It comes following a period of “unstable euphoria” when one sees only the “ego ideal” when one looks in the mirror. But then, invariably, something happens that shatters your little teepee of ego-mirrors and leaves you seeing the "real" you in the mirror, time beating relentlessly you with a big stick of wind and weather. When the shattering of the mirrors comes, at first it feels glorious and freeing... we fall in love with the person who triggered it, like we were an imprinting newborn baby chick. Later we come home damaged by defeat, or torn by obsessive fall-out from petty triumphs...What is this ego shattering moment for you? What is it that splinters your sense of self and time so that for the rest of your life you long to gaze into those shattered shards just one more time? Maybe it’s the moment you finally got a chance to tell the girl you truly love how you feel and she wasn’t into you. Or maybe you realize that the girl you thought you were in love with years ago, you really weren’t. It was just that she was so gorgeous, and so damaged, and looked like she would fade so fast.

by Erich Kuersten

c. 2008 acidemic

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