Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst
f you had the power to erase a relationship that ended badly, would you? Chances are if you happen to be in the throes of relationship mourning right now you’d say yes. When it seems every radio DJ in the city is in on some dark conspiracy to remind you of your ex, erasing the flood of memories that accompanies “Number One Crush” seems like a pretty good idea. When 2 a.m. is a merciless stretch of insomnia that smothers you with a desire to make ill advised phone calls full of questions, all you want is to get past it. When you can’t go to your favorite restaurant any more because what was once “your place” singular became “your place” plural, forgetting about that special someone long enough to get a serving of the best pad thai you ever had seems like a totally viable option.
At least, it certainly does to Joel (Jim Carrey), a sarcastic introvert who finds a brief respite from his cold gray cynicism in the love of the quirky and colorful Clementine (Kate Winslet). When the relationship eventually goes awry, Joel finds himself a ruined husk of a man who wasn’t much more than a husk to begin with. It is then that we meet him, sleepwalking along in the aftermath, alternately crying in his car and boring his friends to tears with his persistent grief.
When Joel makes one last ditch effort to get Clementine back with a gift and an apologetic card, he is met with a former lover who clearly doesn’t recognize him, and treats him like a total stranger. Confused by her behavior, he consults their mutual friends Carrie (Jane Adams) and Rob (David Cross), the latter of whom finally explains Clementine’s lack of recognition.
Turns out Clementine, a woman ruled by her whims, has undergone a procedure at a shadowy clinic known as Lacuna Inc. to have Joel erased from her memory. Outraged by her decision, Joel vows to do the same and books an appointment with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the inventor of the clinic’s erasing technology and founder of Lacuna Inc.
As Joel undergoes the procedure, which involves, among other things, drugging the patient into a stupor where they relive the relationship in a sort of dream state, he becomes uncomfortably aware of the zapping of his memories of Clementine. This awareness is, of course, an unplanned for and undesirable side effect. Joel soon finds himself fighting desperately to hold on to certain moments that have surely shaped him into a better man. A man who, however fleetingly, knew moments of great intimacy and warmth and sees the values of those memories, even if they are the cause of great pain to him now.
Before I continue, I think it’s necessary to qualify this review by saying I am not a fan of Jim Carrey. I’m a snob who reserves all slapstick mugging for the talents of the British almost exclusively, save for the genius that was Buster Keaton. Keaton is the last American goofball, in my book. I have never forgiven Chevy Chase for not making the same cool transition to low-key comedy as Bill Murray, and I never will. It’s the same reason I avoid Adam Sandler movies like the plague (Punch Drunk Love excepted, and, grudgingly, The Wedding Singer). I lump Carrey’s movies (though I will concede the guilty pleasure of The Cable Guy) in to the same bin of disdain as Jamie Kennedy movies (all of them!). I was a Jim Carrey hater, and when I first started seeing trailers for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I remember thinking that it was a movie I might like to see, if only he wasn’t in it.
But still, how could I resist when it also stars David Cross, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Frodo… I mean Elijah Wood, of all of whom I’m a fan? And how can I resist the fantastic, surreal stylings of writer/director Gondry and co-writer Charlie Kaufman? I couldn’t. So I abstained from drinking my usual bottle of Jim Carrey “Haterade” and performed my own Lacuna Inc. style forgetting of Carrey’s past body of work. And boy, am I glad I did.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a great movie that owes the majority of its greatness to Jim Carrey himself. Carrey plays a completely believable misfit ruled by his own awkward fears, and I loved him without reservation. Eternal Sunshine..., in fact, seems to be a similar vehicle to Punch Drunk Love in that it allows Carrey to transition from goofball to “actual actor” with enough nods to oddness to keep that transition from looking forced and unnatural. Sure there are a couple of moments where Carrey dons a stupid voice and makes stupid faces, but they’re so perfectly timed and utterly relevant that I didn’t even have a chance to roll my eyes.
But all former Jim Carrey loathing aside, Eternal Sunshine... is just a great concept that is fully and brilliantly realized. The Gondry/Kaufman duo flesh out an inner landscape that, despite its high weirdness, few of us would find alien, and Ellen Kuras’ amazing cinematography lends elegant meaning to all of the beautiful, still moments of a formative relationship where you feel like your love is shot in Cinemascope. Eternal Sunshine... doesn’t even fall into the fluffy romance trap, as it leaves all of those cringe-worthy moments intact along with all of those terrible words they can’t take back as Joel and Clementine’s relationship falls apart.
Ruffalo and Wood are great as well, co-starring as easily distracted erasing technicians Stan and Patrick, one of whom has a rather unethical agenda of his own, and Dunst provides much more than just sweet ornamentation as the star-struck receptionist at Lacuna Inc. fascinated by the pioneering work of Wilkinson.
All in all, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a brainy, wacky, psychological romp that should appeal to anyone, whether they love Jim Carrey or not. I found myself laughing as suddenly and unselfconsciously as I would if I were watching it alone, though the theater we saw it in was packed. This despite the fact that it was a week after the movie’s release; I suspect this one will still be reeling in impressive crowds even two or three weeks from now. Perfect date movie, perfect dumped movie, perfect romantic comedy, perfect surrealist drama—you could do worse than suspend your disbelief and your dislike of rubber-faced goons and give yourself over to Eternal Sunshine.
By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2004-04-02