Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

by Kevin Chen

March 17, 2004

Hey, are you watching In Living Color?

"Better by far you should forget and smile/Than that you should remember and be sad." So says Christina Georgina Rossetti in her poem 'Remember', and in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a pair of feuding lovers take her intent (if not her words) to heart.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is nearing the end of his relationship with the aggravatingly spontaneous Clementine (Kate Winslet). When the pain of their collapsing affair becomes too much to bear, Clementine submits to a medical procedure which removes her memories of Joel, creating a black hole within her mind of their experiences together. In retaliation, or perhaps in envy of the apparent bliss of her amnesia, Joel insists that the procedure be repeated -- on him.

The screenplay comes from the pen of twice Oscar-nominated mad genius Charlie Kaufman (although this time around, his identical twin Donald is nowhere to be seen) and, while imbued with his trademark quirkiness, somehow manages to be far more straightforward than either "Being John Malkovich" or "Adaptation". Its non-chronological structure and themes of memory will likely invite comparisons with Memento or Rashomon, although the latter is probably the more correct of the two, since we see events through the hazy lens of memory before a clearer version is made manifest.

Any film starring Jim Carrey can easily be made into a tour de force of comic mugging and physical mishap, but those instincts are suppressed here. Carrey is meek and introverted (as so many Kaufman protagonists are), and the manic energy and spunk is instead given by a multichromatic Winslet. While the magnitude of the polarity of their opposites attract infatuation yields echoes of another recent romantic comedy, Along Came Polly, these characters feel like they could actually exist, rather than being mere broad caricatures designed to clash at precisely the turn of the closing of act two, and to reconcile with clockwork precision at the close of act three (To be fair, I have not actually seen Along Came Polly, although what I have gleaned from the trailers and other reviews suggest that it is perhaps ill-classified, being short on both romance and comedy).

Additional subplots in the film concern the technicians overseeing Joel's memory purge (Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood), a visit from their receptionist (Kirsten Dunst), and, during a particular complication in the procedure, a house call by the senior doctor (Tom Wilkinson). I won't divulge the details of these; better to discover them as the screenplay chooses to dole them out.

Cerebral audiences will enjoy the blurring of the lines between reality and recall, between memory and experience. Camera tricks and special effects provide the audience with a "wow, cool" jolt while emphasizing the infinite malleability of memory within the mind. Rod Serling would have loved this movie. Hopefully, audiences will, too. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is alternately thoughtful, thought-provoking, insightful, sweet, and hopeful. At least, that's how I remember it.



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