Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey plays the introverted Joel, who meets and falls in love with the impulsive Clementine (Kate Winslet), thus beginning a rocky relationship. Eventually it ends, and not long after Joel finds out that Clementine has had a procedure performed to erase any memory of Joel and their time together as a couple. Absolutely gutted and distraught, Joel seeks out Dr. Mierzwiak (A hangdog Tom Wilkinson) to have same procedure done to him. Later that night, technicians Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) turn up at Joel’s apartment to begin the procedure. Semi-conscious through the experience, Joel learns that Patrick has unethically sought out Clementine to start dating her himself. Meanwhile, Joel begins to regret his decision and wants to keep his memories of Clementine and fight for their love. He attempts to seek out Clementine in his memories and hide her from the technicians. David Cross and Jane Adams play the couple’s friends, while Kirsten Dunst is a secretary currently dating Stan.

I wasn’t keen on “Adaptation”, but it’s pretty obvious that Charlie Kaufman (writer of “Being John Malkovich”, writer-director of the dense but impressive “Synechdoche, New York”) is a truly creative human being like no other. Directed by Michel Gondry (the occasionally amusing but mostly flat “Be Kind Rewind”), this romance/drama with a sci-fi bent from 2004 is unquestionably the work of its screenwriter Kaufman more than anyone else. A genius devised this film, I really believe that, and although Gondry deserves credit (especially for the more visual and surreal moments), most of the credit should go to the wild imagination of Mr. Kaufman.

It’s also the best film of star Jim Carrey’s career so far, and although we think of him as an extroverted physical comedian, I get the feeling that this introverted and rather fragile character is much closer to home than any of his most famously comedic characters. It’s not the happiest of love stories, that much is obvious. Jim Carrey starts off miserable-looking, rather introspective, probably even depressed…and then he falls in love. Great, right? Nope, he falls for the exact wrong girl for him so you expect he’ll just end up where he started. She’s talkative enough to bring the introverted Carrey (yes, you’re seeing introvert and Jim Carrey used in the same sentence) out of his shell, but…she’s also erratic and eventually it ends when she wants to completely forget him and has her memories of him literally erased. This causes him to go through the same process too. How romantic, right? But…he has a change of heart during the process and fights to get her back. It’s heartbreaking, weird, and absolutely beautiful. It might get a tad confusing at times, but it’s clever how we see Carrey try to find his way through all the memories as they are being erased. In order to stop her from being erased Carrey has to take her back to before they even met and insert/hide her in his childhood memories. It leads to a brilliant and very Jim Carrey scene from a comedic point of view. Like the later “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, it really is a very imaginative take on something rather simple and familiar and it’s not something you’ve ever seen done like this before or since. The way the film resolves its central issue is really clever too and beautiful.

In addition to Jim Carrey’s touching performance, Kate Winslet is perfectly cast as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl despite basically rejecting the notion that she is one. Winslet is excellent in making us see the flakiness and other flaws in Clementine without losing sympathy for her. Elijah Wood meanwhile gives a supremely creepy supporting performance that is a million miles from The Shire. Although I’m not a Kirsten Dunst fan she’s involved in one of the film’s best twists that I didn’t pick the first time around. It’s such a shame that Gondry and cinematographer Ellen Kuras (“Summer of Sam”, “Blow”, “Be Kind Rewind”) have shot this in shaky-cam style, because it stains an otherwise gorgeous film. From time to time there will be a beautiful image like Carrey and Winslet lying on the ice together. Others may not be bothered but I find shaky-cam doesn’t achieve its desired effect, instead of making things seem real, it points me to the fact that there’s a camera around and I’m watching a movie.

A top romantic film without being romantic in the formulaic, conventional sense. The idea it is founded on is very romantic, but it’s also twisted, dark, depressing etc. I mean, it’s basically a movie about getting over a break-up, hardly the most romantic plot…yet there’s a nostalgic quality to it that is very romantic. Or perhaps it’s more of a love story than a romance movie per se, as it’s a film that actually champions the pain of a relationship because you can’t have the highs without the lows as well. Otherwise, where’s the passion? This one’s unique and kind of brilliant but screenwriter Kaufman never forgets to make it human and not just a quirky writing exercise. Terrific performances, too. Kaufman’s script is based on a story by himself, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth (who is credited with coming up with the basic jumping off point of the premise).

Rating: B+


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