Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of my earliest film reviews, originally published in April 2004 for the defunct University of Washington publication ‘Right Turn’. This was probably the first time that I had a hard deadline for a print publication, at least where my contribution could not be easily replaced. At the time we would meet roughly every two weeks and devote more or less the whole weekend to editing and publishing the next issue. Over the years we ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of sodas at our Fremont office space. For this issue it was around midnight the day before publication when we determined we had a big hole as far as content. I wrote this review while others were busy working on their own contributions. With dial-up Internet I had a hard time even gathering even basic film information, and as I recall one of the actor’s names was misspelled in the print version]
Writer Charlie Kaufman seems to have a hard time dealing with reality. His newest film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. As in Kaufman’s earlier films, the sleeper hits Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, a similar formula was used to create disjointed masterpieces of existential confusion and circular logic.
Eternal Sunshine is a tale of love gone sour. Its central premise is if you could erase a particularly painful relationship, would you choose to do it, or would you choose to live with your mistakes and remember the good times along with the bad? In the opening scene we meet Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), a couple with virtually nothing in common. Joel is boring and conservative, while Clementine is compulsive and unpredictable. The two begin dating and are presumably happy before everything starts to unravel, Joel having a difficult time expressing his emotions and Clementine becoming promiscuous and a lush.
They break up, although that event is never actually played out on film. One day Joel accidentally receives a notice in the mail indicating that Clementine has paid to have her memory erased so that she will not be forced to remember him. He visits her at work and discovers that she really does have no memory of him and is now dating someone new. The pain of this realization leads Joel to have Clementine erased from his memory by the same firm, whose “doctor” claims that effects of memory erasure are “roughly equivalent to a night of hard drinking.”
Joel is sedated in his home by technicians from the firm and his entire memory of Clementine is to be expunged in a single night, leaving Joel whole and complete once again. The only problem is that as memories are erased one by one, Joel discovers that he doesn’t want to forget Clementine. The rest of the movie takes place in Joel’s mind as he struggles to remember anything at all of his beloved Clementine. If this sounds complicated, you have no idea.
This movie could have been a train wreck, but thankfully not in the hands of Kaufman and director Michel Gundy. Jim Carrey shines in one of his best roles since The Truman Show. Eternal Sunshine’s message is elegant in its simplicity. The purity of love is illogical. There are no guarantees, ever. There is almost a fatalistic quality to this film, that Joel and Clementine are irrationally committed to each other when they really have nothing in common. Joel’s struggle to keep his memory intact is a triumph of the human spirit, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a triumph in filmmaking.
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