Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: March 19th, 2004 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michel Gondry Actors: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Jane Adams, David Cross

 


 

J

oel Barish (Jim Carrey) groggily awakes from his couch, saunters outside to discover that his car door has been damaged, and then calls in to work to say he’s not feeling well. It’s not a complete lie, as this particular Valentine’s Day in the freezing cold of Montauk, Joel is a bit more depressed about his single status than usual. He just can’t seem to meet the right girl. Curiously, as he takes a stroll on the beach and sketches in his journal, he notices that he hasn’t made an entry in two years.

On the train to Rockville Center, he meets a rather outgoing girl named Clementine (Kate Winslet), who quickly pushes her way into his seat. She’s a bit aggressive and adventurous, and her brightly-colored blue hair isn’t Joel’s style, but before the night is through, he finds himself back at her apartment, having a drink. In no time at all, they’re caught up in a whirlwind romance, making very specific memories, such as sliding around on a frozen lake (a cinematic sequence that adorns the poster art).

There’s something immediately natural and improvisational about the dialogue. Carrey is shy, reserved, and not terribly expressive. He’s at his most authentic, portraying a more believable character than he’s ever done before. And Winslet is equally alluring. The two of them behave and act as if they’re a genuine couple, and as if in a documentary, with the camera rolling on normal, diurnal, almost uneventful routines. And, indeed, the use of handheld, occasionally invasive photography, coupled with low lighting or naturally occurring light sources, gives the imagery a bit of a nonfictional look.

In a rather shocking twist, it’s more than 15 minutes into the film before the opening credits start to appear. The initial romance is merely the setup; with a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and direction by Michel Gondry, the timeline is like a ball of yarn (quick cuts find characters shifting back and forth even within a single shot) and the story unfolds like a mystery, with scenes unhurriedly divulging slivers of information (with questions continuing to pile up faster than answers are resolved). Introducing a touch of science-fiction to the romantic drama, the plot grows even more abstruse.

Something soured in their relationship, causing Clementine to go to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) at Lacuna, a company that specializes in erasing memories. After her visit, she no longer recognizes Joel, despite his attempt to win her back with a spontaneous gift. In a fit of anger, Joel delivers his own counterblow by heading to Lacuna to have all memories of Clementine eradicated too, emptying his life of everything that ever involved this former flame. “Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage.”

The memory degradation process is both confusing and brilliant. Scenes transpire out of order, blending into one another or repeating with distinct irregularities, while somber music narrates the dourness of a great love being abolished … before it becomes a great love. After all, their relationship deteriorates and disappears right in front of the audience, while it simultaneously generates details to make it more significant. The film also uses blurriness, characters disappearing from the frame, locations merging into others against geographical sensibility, footage rewinding, shadows creeping across faces, the wrong soundtracks layered over unrelated sequences, and even computer graphics for distortion.

At the same time that the film is sensationally creative and outrageously funny, it’s also entirely sweet. Irresponsible technicians Patrick (Elijah Wood, playing the Christian de Neuvillette to Carrey’s Cyrano de Bergerac), Stan (Mark Ruffalo), and Mary (Kirsten Dunst) provide comic relief as they exploit the central lovers’ situation, additionally serving as the antagonists in Joel’s fight against his slowly vanishing memories. Plus, the eventual self-aware manipulation of dreams to impede his impulsive decision transforms into comical absurdity, as if a parody of “The Matrix.” Once the arrangement – or rearrangement – of the timeline becomes more manageable, the picture carries on a touch longer than necessary, though further mind-blowing revelations surface in this acid-trip of a movie. A masterwork of originality (and a mesmerizing examination of second chances and the ups and downs of love), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is touching, tragic, inspiring, funny, hopeful, and, most importantly, powerfully romantic.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10