Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Get Ready to Blow Yours
By
Rob Levy
3/18/2004 2:09:26 PM

Jim Carrey’s new film, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is cinematic proof that sometimes people need to have their head examined. Named after an Alexander Pope poem, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a love story, sort of. It tells the tail of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a quiet mild mannered guy who is reeling from the recent collapse of his relationship with his girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). During a conversation with friends he discovers that Clementine has had all traces of their relationship removed from her memory. He confronts Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (the always solid Tom Wilkinson), who oversaw Clem’s procedure for a company called Lacuna Inc. Eventually he convinces Howard that he also should wipe Clementine from the recesses of his mind.

While undergoing the erasing procedure Joel becomes aware that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Reliving memories of Clem causes Joel to become acutely aware of his mistakes, missteps and screwups with Clem. At this point his desire for reconciliation causes him to fight inwardly for control of his memories. Things go further awry when Patrick, one of Lacuna’s technicians, moves on Clem by recycling Joel’s memories. Meanwhile Mary, Lacuna’s receptionist, discovers the dark, tragic truth about her employer, Dr Mierzwiak. The revelations her character makes serve as the final catalyst for upending the plot into grim reality and change. This is an interesting subplot that gives the film another layer of depth and intrigue, underscoring a sense of melancholy and loss.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind can best described as a mental take on the classic film, The Fantastic Voyage. Instead of going into an actual body, we get inside the neurosis, psychosis and layered mental damage of the human psyche. The film is an inside out love story, told with rewinding time and jumbled imagery. The plot dodges and weaves seamlessly between the real and the subconscious, resulting in a film that gets to the heart of why relationships blossom and fail.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is the result of another interesting creative pairing, from co-writer/director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman (they previously worked on Human Nature). Their craftsmanship has produced a texturally rich, sensory feast that combines a stunning script, soft humor, visually stunning cinematography with amazing dreamlike effects. His greatest directorial achievement however, may be the amazingly subdued performance he got from Jim Carrey.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is the fifth film from Hollywood’s writer of the moment, Charlie Kaufman. In each of his previous films (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Human Nature and recently, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) Kaufman has dealt with the human psyche and why we behave the way we do. This film is no exception. He once again unearths the darkest recesses, exploring what makes human beings react the way that they do; exploring how we act, think, squirm and tick--although not as overtly or weirdly as he was with Adaptation or Being John Malkovich. After carefully probing and prodding the surface of these relationships, Kaufman gets at what lies in the heart, and then glosses it over with healthy doses of irony, melancholy and sublime comedy.

Kaufman’s script goes against the grain by casting Winslet and Carrey against casting. This works wonders. Winslet lets loose, giving an inventive performance that could revamp her career. It is refreshing to see her in a role that is less stoic, more energetic and funny. She portrays Clementine as this manic, frantic, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside girl who is lost and searching to find who she really is. Her over-the-top performance as Clem is balanced out by a calmer, cerebral turn by Jim Carrey. As the unsure, paranoid and uncertain Joel, Carrey is amazingly subdued and hushed. Gone are the spastic facial expressions and bombasts of furious energy that made him a $20 Million Dollar man at the box office. Carrey has matured into a veteran actor who has come into his own. But Carrey’s movie roles of late have been a whitewash. Now, Kaufman give Carrey a script that lets him really pour himself into the character. Although Carrey has done drama before, he has never exhibited this much restraint, subtlety and richness.

Watching Carrey in this film is a treat. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind will no doubt continue to open up better dramatic comedy roles for Carrey, especially with Robin Williams and Steve Martin getting older.

The supporting cast of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is equally enjoyable. Elijah Wood needed to bust out into newer, different, non-hobbit roles and this is the perfect project for him to relaunch himself as an actor. He is strangely kooky as Patrick, the technician who weasels in on Clementine during her removal process. Mark Ruffalo plays Stan, the no-nonsense Lacuna technician, responsible for targeting and eliminating Joel’s memories of Clementine. Stan and Joel fight an inside battle of wits, Stan from the outside, Joel from the inside. For Stan, Ruffalo segues hipster nerd charm with some serious moribund sleaze. Another subplot involves Stan’s pining for the Lacuna receptionist, Mary, played with a sense of serendipity by Kirsten Dunst. Initially Mary seems like a small part of the story, however by the film’s last half, she is the major catalyst for change. Dunst plays Mary as a demure receptionist who suddenly comes to life in the last quarter of the film.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a romantic comedy, albeit a demented one about off-kilter people searching for happiness. Gondry and Kaufman have made a touching film about an age-old subject; the search for happiness, but they’ve reinvented, reshaped and repackaged it in a nonlinear style. It delivers genuine moments of heartfelt joy, sincerity and warmth. It is also film about destiny and hope. We root for these characters and feel for their plight. Simply, it is fun to watch Joel and Clem go on their inward journey. In general, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a well-written, tightly-acted, surreal film experience.

 

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