Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 3/19/04 (wide)
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: R (Profanity, drug use, sexual content)
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo

Director: Michel Gondry
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Steve Golin
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman
Music: Jon Brion
Studio: Focus Features

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By now, if you are unfamiliar with the name Charlie Kaufman (in other words, if you have spent the last three years in outer space), that is undoubtedly a damn shame. Charlie Kaufman is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary and one of the (if not the) most inventive screenwriters in the game today. His previous projects, including Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, have broken cinematic formulas and expectations alike, and in doing so, both have become modern-day unparalleled masterworks. Fortunately, with his newest effort, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman does not fall far from the level of innovation he emanated with his first two features. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a strikingly original story that blends both romance and memory loss like no other. It is yet another eccentric and aesthetic tale from one of Hollywood’s most gifted writers that all will surely find sharp, fresh, and cognitive.

Not only has Kaufman pieced together a pioneering screenplay on an often-adapted subject matter, but he has also concocted an aptly named title that has the power to place viewers in a state of surrealism and wonderment right from the get-go. The title of the picture is taken from a poem entitled “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope. This historic elegy, which Kaufman also used in Being John Malkovich, directly refers to the human brain’s power of recollection. Reminiscent of both Memento and 50 First Dates, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deals with the loss of memory; however, Kaufman’s script gives the frequently used topic an appetizing twist.

On a train to Montauk, Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) happens to meet Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), a candid yet electric woman, who more-or-less seems like she could complete Joel in every way. The two form a relationship, and establish many happy memories together. Even so, in due time, their connection comes to a halt—Clementine becomes bored with Joel and Joel believes Clementine is too dependent.

Immediately after the breakup, Clementine chooses to have Joel erased from her memory. She travels to Lacuna Inc. – a company that specializes in the futuristic service of memory erasure – to seek the help of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson).

Once Joel discovers that Clementine erased him from her head entirely, he reports directly to Lacuna for the very same service. However, once the Lacuna employees, Patrick (Elijah Wood), Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), start wiping out Clementine from Joel’s mind, their service becomes a disservice; Joel becomes contrite and changes his mind about the procedure. Even though Joel is unconscious during the entire attempted erasure, he consciously tries to retain the memories of his love for Clementine within the walls of his own head, and attempts to hang on to at least a fragment of what they once had.

There is no question about it, this Jim Carrey’s finest work. He brings a clear spirited depth to the part of Joel—making Joel Jim’s most stark yet most respectable character role to date. Even though Eternal Sunshine may not be one of Jim biggest money making endeavors (compared to his comedies), it certainly puts him on the path of being perceived as an actor who is capable of seriousness. At far as earning an Oscar nod for ‘04, because of the film's early release date and the fierce competition up for the Best Actor nominations, Jim will most likely be gypped.

In addition to Carrey’s career performance, the remainder of the ensemble cast fares equally as well. Kate Winslet serves up some of her best non English-accented acting as the orange-haired and sporadically veclempt Clementine. (Sorry for the Yiddish slang.) Her work here is arguably better than anything else she has done—with the possible exception of her other near-astounding 2004 effort in Finding Neverland. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo are as faultless as always, and both Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood are as top-notch as expected in their respective supporting roles.

With his superb use of light (or more appropriately darkness) and his watertight scene transitions, director Michel Gondry has crafted an utter joy of a film that cleverly starts out near the end and then wraps back upon itself by the conclusion. Overall, the quirky yet visual genius of Gondry combined with the warped yet brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman has undoubtedly resulted in a beautiful and poignant romance. The manner in which Eternal Sunshine blends its romance and comedy gives the film a strong sense of undeniable individuality and makes for an overtly pleasing picture. Eternal Sunshine has the aptitude to tickle your thinking cap, sooth your sight, and hypnotize your heart. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind belongs in the absolute upper echelon of all that is romantic and unique. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004