==> I confess to being an idealist and a romantic. This type of film appeals to people like me... the ones who believe in love at first sight, soul mates, destiny, yada yada yada. The Charlie Kaufman penned 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is as fresh and original as some of his other screenplays (Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation), but adds a romantic depth that makes this one of the most complete film going experiences I have ever had.
There was an exchange during the film between our two leads, Joel and Clementine, played with poignancy and nuance by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, that echoed what I was feeling about the film.
Clementine: This is it Joel. It's going to be gone soon.
Joel: I know.
Clementine: What do we do?
Joel: Enjoy it.
Luckily for me, I knew I was going to be able to revisit the film many times in my life. The depth of the film manifests itself in the fact that the soul mates, Joel and Clem, both know that their time is running out and that they will never be able to meet again.
Most films might choose to highlight this type of heartbreak with the death of a loved one or a bittersweet farewell at a train station. But not Charlie Kaufman. He is bored by clichés. Rather, he chooses to dazzle us with the complexities of the human mind and all of its glorious possibilities. He is a master storyteller that is unlike any other I am aware of.
Joel (Carrey) is socially inept. He has had girlfriends, but none that really meant anything. It is as if he has never had a significant relationship of any kind. But, one day, he meets Clementine. "Don't make any jokes about my name", she warns him. She is wild and kooky, changing her hair color from red to orange to blue to green depending on her current mood. She seems the polar opposite of Joel, but they click. They click in ways even they can't pinpoint. But from the moment they meet, they know there is something special there.
However, after a silly argument breaks up their relationship, Clementine decides to visit Lacuna Inc., a company that specializes in wiping troubling memories away forever. She has decided to erase the memory of Joel. When Joel hears this from some friends, he angrily decides to do the same to Clementine, erasing her completely from his mind.
The erasing process involves a mapping of the memories and an all night process of erasure that is "technically brain damage", according to the doctor. The bulk of the film takes place during the process, inside Joel's mind. The most recent memories are first to go and we watch as they slowly disappear into nothingness. Those recent memories are bitter as we witness the arguments and the boredom of their relationship. But as the time rewinds, the memories get better. We travel backwards and watch Joel and Clem during their best moments, loving life and loving each other. As this happens, Joel desperately regrets his decision. He wants the inevitable erasure to stop, but he is completely powerless. Soon she will be gone and he won't even remember that he forgot her. The film focuses on his attempts to foil the process and retain some of her in the recesses of his mind.
'Eternal Sunshine' is directed by Michel Gondry who also helmed 'Human Nature'. He has a flare that accompanies Kaufman's words with perfect symmetry. This film bounces around on its timeline almost hysterically, but the director never lets us get lost. We always feel in control of our senses and our emotions. It is a tribute to Carrey and Winslet that they were able to do the same.
Jim Carrey has pulled off a rather remarkable transformation that I would have deemed impossible a decade ago. He is becoming a brilliant actor with qualities that resemble Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks. He is a fabulous everyman who is sympathetic and knowing, interesting and kind. He deserves tremendous praise for this role. Kate Winslet is consistently brilliant in every film. She is easily one of the very best actresses we have. Here she plays against type, and embodies a fascinating woman who craves attention but needs intimacy. Hers is a beautiful performance that will go overlooked. It is easy to understand why Joel falls in love with Clementine.
I think fans of Charlie Kaufman will be thrilled with this brilliant entry in to his collection. I think the film will appeal to those who loved the recent masterpiece 'Lost in Translation' or Tom Tykwer's recent beauty, 'Heaven'. It is a romantic fantasy with real emotions and real characters that will resonate with the viewer who isn't entirely closed to sentiment. When Clementine whispers "Meet me in Montauk" into Joel's ear... it's hard to hold back a tear.
This will easily be one of the best films of 2004. It is the antithesis of the typical romantic Hollywood fare. I loved every minute of its refreshing originality. The film has passion and flare and brilliant wit, all framed by an intelligent script that deals in absurdity while managing to maintain an intimate realism. These characters feel real. You root for them. You want them to meet again and give it another chance. It is a film that will only get better over time, as our memory of it waxes and wanes its way into our hearts.