Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  March 19, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

It's been almost 2 years since we have had a glimpse at the upside-down world of script-crafter Charlie Kaufman. The Oscar-nominated screenwriter has delivered such head scratching films as Human Nature, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. He is probably looked at as one of most original and thought-provoking screenwriters working in Hollywood today.

Kaufman's latest is once more a strange script that teeters on the barriers of our minds. For Eternal Sunshine, Kaufman re-teams with Human Nature director Michel Gondry, who has practically disappeared from Hollywood and directing since that 2001 movie.

The film finds quiet, lonely man Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) meeting Clementine (Kate Winslet), a free-spirited, energetic, and talkative woman one day while on the train. Clementine brings a breath of fresh air to his cluttered world and he is captivated by her energy. She makes him feel alive. But eventually their conflicting personalities lash out at one another and they break up. Joel is devastated.

Attempting to reconcile with Clem, Joel approaches her at work. He is blown over when she doesn't remember or hardly acknowledge he exists. And if that wasn't enough, she already has a new boyfriend (Elijah Wood). This isn't natural and it isn't one of her games, instead it feels like he is on another plane of existence.

Eventually Joel discovers a letter from Lacuna Inc. He visits the agency to find out what has happened. It turns out that they can erase painful memories from a patient's mind and that Clem had Joel removed. Desperate to start over, Joel signs up for the very same procedure. It is just that simple, or is it? Breaking up is so hard to do.

When watching a Kaufman movie, nothing is what it seems. The only common threads in his scripts are the unexpected, craziness, and a lonely guy dealing with a traumatic problem. John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, and now Jim Carrey all play that kind of man to perfection. Carrey in Eternal seems more hopeless because for some reason there seems to be more of a lost soul in his grasp of the character. Carrey has yet to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor and that is shame. I have thoroughly enjoyed all his dramatic turns and he is great here as well.

Winslet is perfect as the free-spirit who seems to live vicariously through her rash hair color decisions. Winslet is able to keep the audience on pins and needles and we can see a lot of what she is as if we are looking at her through Joel. I especially enjoyed Winslet when she is playing the Clem inside Joel's mind. It is strange how the film can allow you to see that distinction.

There is a message that the film talks about that really hit close to home. If we do attempt to vanquish a person, time, place, or event from our minds, then we do tend to erase the good and bad. Sometimes we need those bad memories so that we can see the good ones also. It is an amazing thought.

This film is layers upon layers like Kaufman likes it. Within those layers I found myself getting lost in portions. But the times where I was involved in them I was swept away. This film was hard to distinguish between what I enjoyed and what bugged me. I know that I enjoyed it but I couldn't figure out why. The funny thing is that I had the same feeling with Being John Malkovich.

It is another amazing script and a definite improvement over the previous Kaufman-Gondry project, Human Nature. Kaufman is back in fine form. (4 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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