by Kevin Chen
March 17, 2004
"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.