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"Breaks the mold, harnessing some of the same energy and imagination to create a highly original love story."
"Charlie Kaufman is one of the most inventive screenwriters around today."
"The brilliance of 'Eternal Sunshine' is that it exists on two different levels - a reality and a subconscious dream."
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  

Cast

Joel Barish: Jim Carrey
Clementine: Kate Winslet
Dr. Mierzwiak: Tom Wilkinson
Stan: Mark Ruffalo
Patrick: Elijah Wood
Mary: Kirsten Dunst
Frank: Thomas Jay Ryan
Carrie: Jane Adams
Rob: David Cross
Review March 2004

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to erase a moment from your past, as if it never happened? To forget the mistakes, the embarrassment, and the pain? Such is the premise behind "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a film by Michel Gondry, that explores the repercussions of memory loss. Following a tumultuous relationship with the impulsive Clementine, Joel Barish decides to exact revenge and have his memory of her erased. But while undergoing the procedure, he realizes how much he truly loved her and how much he wants to hold on to her. Written by Charlie Kaufman, whose previous works like "Human Nature," "Being John Malkovich," and "Adaptation" pushed the boundaries of disillusion and dementia, "Eternal Sunshine" breaks the mold, harnessing some of the same energy and imagination to create a highly original love story.

The story unfolds in non-linear fashion, although it is much easier to tell it chronologically. Joel Barish is a reclusive, out of luck kind of guy, whose world gets flipped upside down when he discovers that his girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski, has had her memories of their topsy-turvy relationship completely erased. In an act of spontaneous revenge, Joel decides to go through the same experimental procedure himself, removing every trace of her from his head. The procedure is handled through a specialist at Lacuna, Inc., a Dr. Mierzwiak, who consults with Joel and informs him that the process is technically, a form of brain damage.

After several visits, Joel is drugged and visited in his apartment by two Lacuna technicians, Stan and Patrick. Both attempt to complete the procedure overnight while Joel is unconscious; however, subconsciously Joel is actively dreaming. Unexpectedly, as Joel's memories begin to disappear, his love for Clementine begins to grow. He visualizes how they met, how she eased his insecurities, and how she made him genuinely happy. And soon, he begins to realize that the positive memories he had of their relationship were well worth holding on to, even if she no longer loved him. As the technicians work diligently to erase every ounce of their relationship, Joel and Clementine try and hide, finding escape in the far reaches of Joel's mind in the hope that he will one day be able to recollect a single memory of their time together.

Charlie Kaufman is one of the most inventive screenwriters around today. Known for his absurd and cerebral imagination, he first gained cult status with "Being John Malkovich," a fascinating take on what it would be like to be a celebrity by inhabiting their brain. Later, in 2002, he exploded onto the scene with "Adaptation," a self-deprecating and exhilarating look at the Hollywood screenwriting machine - one that earned him many award nominations. What makes Kaufman so good is his ability to create unique worlds inhabited by normal characters that must deal with exaggerated circumstances. These circumstances, as in "Being John Malkovich," involve a tunnel that leads into a Hollywood actor's head. Or an imaginary alter ego in "Adaptation." Or a secret life as a CIA agent in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." In each one of these instances, there's a bizarre mental twist. And "Eternal Sunshine" is no different. In the film, Joel Barish attempts to erase the memory of his ex-girlfriend only to realize how much he truly loved her.

All of Kaufman's films force you to psychoanalyze, interpret, and absorb. And my only complaint is that they inevitably leave you with a headache, trying to figure out what is going on, what is happening to the characters, and why things are so convoluted. But here, it really isn't the script that is distorted as much as it is the cinematography. Directed by Michel Gondry, who also collaborated with Kaufman on 2001's "Human Nature" with Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette, the film is a bit too disorienting, much like the Chemical Brothers' videos that Gondry used to make. The weird angles, the haziness, and the disappearing or blurry images are an attempt at surrealism, but for me, they were a little too much. Despite that, it's hard not to be overjoyed with the blending of an adult Joel and a younger Joel through childhood memories - hiding under the kitchen table, being bullied by other kids, and taking a bath in the kitchen sink. This is great art and set direction and simple, flawless technique.

The brilliance of "Eternal Sunshine" is that it exists on two different levels - a reality and a subconscious dream. Both run parallel throughout, intersecting at various moments when Joel's memories begin to disappear. And even more intriguing is the reverse love story. It begins with the breakup and shows how the most recent memories are the easiest to remember. Yet, over time, the deeper, tender moments are the ones that are the most personal and the most cherished. Through the most secretive and soft moments of Joel's childhood, through the most intimate moments of his relationship, he falls in love with Clementine all over again. Here, Kaufman has practically created a new genre. And only after leaving the theater did I realize this and begin to appreciate the eloquence of its perplexity.

This film, along with "The Truman Show" and "The Majestic," are the reasons why I love watching Jim Carrey. Sure, I enjoy his comedic roles in "Bruce Almighty" and "Dumb and Dumber" just like anybody else. But it is the more dramatic roles that set him apart, that define him as an actor. And in "Eternal Sunshine," Carrey takes on one of his most challenging roles, playing the exact opposite of his spastic self. He's withdrawn, introverted, and unsure. And most of all, he's brilliant. (Note: Carrey even expressed his artistic ability by drawing some of the sketches that his character keeps in his journal). Ironically, Kate Winslet also plays outside her usual, conservative self. As Clementine, Winslet is the extrovert, the one going through life as a free spirit, unaware of the consequences her actions bring. And a tribute to her is that she reveals the vulnerability of her character without the need for the orange or purple locks. The rest of the supporting cast is solid: Mark Ruffalo as the inexperienced technician, Kirsten Dunst as the ditzy receptionist, Elijah Wood as the soft spoken gopher, and Tom Wilkinson as the emotionless doctor.

Oscar Wilde once said: "Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us." To lose our memory would equate to the loss of our own existence, an empty memoir. They're what differentiate us from each other; they define who we are, for better or for worse. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" highlights the importance of memories by showing us what life is like without them. Or what it would be like to have them erased. The film is highly original and intellectual with great imagination and a great love story. And even though it contains an overly complex narrative, even though the visuals are a little distracting, you'll find the theme to be very pleasing and most assuredly, very memorable.



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