Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindThursday 29 Apr 2004
Directed by Michel Gondry, starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood.
It's not often that the scriptwriter gets more attention than the director, but Charlie Kaufman has written some of the more inventive films to come out of Hollywood in recent years. From 'Being John Malkovich' through 'Adaptation' and 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind', he has dispensed with linear narratives and proved that audiences can and are interested in watching films that are weird, wonderful and sometimes downright frustrating. 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is no different, but it is also shot through with moments of pure beauty and emotion which have been missing from his earlier films. The story at the core of 'Eternal Sunshine...' is very simple: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl fall out of love, boy and girl have memories erased, boy meets girl...
The nerdy Joel, played totally straight by Jim Carrey, meets Kate Winslet's impulsive, blue-haired Clementine on a grim, deserted beach one depressing Valentine's Day. From this 'first' meeting the film moves backwards and sideways. It emerges that Joel and Clem have already been a couple but, when they broke up, Clem had her memories of him erased. Devastated by this, Joel goes to the same company - Lacuna Incorporated - to undergo the procedure himself. He's reassured by the avuncular company doctor (Wilkinson) that it's not dangerous: "...brain damage, but on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss." But that's not entirely true as wiping out all the bad memories also means losing the good ones. Much of the rest of the film takes place in Joel's head as he wanders through the times, bad and good, that he spent with Clem - each memory being erased by the doctor's oddball assistants while he sleeps.
'Eternal Sunshine...' takes its name from a quotation by Alexander Pope that Lacuna receptionist Mary (Dunst) finds in her 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations' book: "How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!/The world forgetting, by the world forgot/Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!/Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd." But Joel is far from resigned to gaining that spotless mind. As he lives through the memories of Clem, he realises why he fell in love with her and that he doesn't want to forget so - in his head - he tries to hide her in places where Lacuna can't probe.
It's a dizzying rollercoaster, full of oddities and neat visual tricks from director Michel Gondry (best known for his inventive videos for Björk, Kylie Minogue and The Chemical Brothers, amongst others) but what makes 'Eternal Sunshine...' really worth watching is the soul that infuses the technological artistry and sometimes confusing timeline of the film. Jim Carrey has never played straight better, to the extent that he disappears inside the mournful character that is Joel - his normal manic energy only peeping out during a sequence where he regresses to childhood - and Kate Winslet turns in a luminous performance, both loveable but aggravating, as Clem. There's great support from Tom Wilkinson's shady doctor and his team - Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood as the memory-erasing techies and ditsy receptionist Kirsten Dunst.
Visually arresting and strangely moving, 'Eternal Sunshine...' is that rare thing, a movie that will make you think. And remember.