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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Director: Michel Gondry
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: March 2004
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, David Cross, Lauren Adler, Josh Flitter, Dylan Gallagher, Ellen Pompeo

Review by Jerry Saravia
4 stars out of 4

Father: "Hey gang! Let's go see the latest Jim Carrey flick at the local multiplex!"

Son: "Oh, cool. Do you mean the sequel to 'The Mask'?"

Father: "Nope, son, it is called 'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'."

Son: "Thanks anyway, Dad. I'll sneak in to see anything but that. I'll check out the new 'Agent Cody Banks' movie."

"The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is the loopiest, most mind-bending romantic comedy film I've ever seen. Loopy and romantic? Does this bring up memories of Adam Sandler's similarly loopy foray into P.T. Anderson's world in "Punch-Drunk Love"? Perhaps, but "Eternal Sunshine" will make you so mad, sad, happy and into such a romantic fool that you'll want to reunite with the ex-girlfriend you truly loved. It is the first truly audacious romantic comedy of the 21st century, guaranteed to keep your spirits high. Here's why.

Jim Carrey is Joel, a greeting card writer, who decides one day to skip work and head to Montauk Point, New York. It is February and snowing, but he still walks on the beach. He finds a woman with blue hair named Clementine (Kate Winslet) who despises the old Huckleberry Hound song. She also hates how Joel continually uses the word "nice" to describe everything. Eventually, Joel is invited to Clementine's apartment, and a romance blossoms. Suddenly, we shift to Valentine's Day where Joel is having a crying fit. Does he suffer from depression? No, it seems that Clementine has totally ignored him, appearing as if she never heard of him. And she also has a boyfriend! What is going on here? So Joel decides to wipe her from his memory and goes to a local clinic called Lacuna, Inc., which specializes in erasing any specific memory. The main doctor of the clinic is the reserved Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who operates on one's mind rather cryptically. When asked if there could be brain damage, the doctor replies, "Technically speaking, it is brain damage." Nevertheless, Joel undergoes the procedure, firstly by bringing every object that reminds him of Clementine. Then it is on to the actual procedure itself where he has some apparatus strapped to his head while two assistants (both hilariously played by Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood) handle laptop computers and cables. Kirsten Dunst is the stoned secretary who has a thing for Ruffalo.

The film is actually something rather rare in modern times - a visual mindscape into Jim Carrey's mind. We see Joel reliving his past moments of glory and misery with Clementine, and sometimes Joel inserts her into his childhood past. The procedure of erasing her deepens and manifests itself in rather strange sights, such as Joel imagining himself as a kid under his mother's kitchen table; the doctors and his assistants morphing into faceless robots; cars falling from the sky and crashing; the disappearance of one setting morphing into another, such as Joel's bed in the snowy beach; Joel's couch immersed in rain; Joel and Clementine at their favorite spot, the frozen Charles River, that gradually morphs into the Grand Central station, and so on. The film is the equivalent of a diabolically clever chase picture into someone's thought processes - Joel's intent is to run after Clementine and have his memory of her restored in memories where she never existed. Of course, the good doctor and his assistants are puzzled that the procedure is taking so long. Have they never realized how complex the human mind is?

As written by the innovative Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich") and directed with a frolicking hand-held immediacy by Michel Gondry, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is the romantic comedy I've been waiting for - the dizzying, dreamlike kind. But aside from honest dialogue and dazzlingly constructed images, "Eternal Sunshine" is a meditation on the crazy nature of falling in and out of love, and how the memories should linger and not be erased. We see Kaufman's humor in subtle touches, particularly the other participants of this unusual memory loss experiment (one has a box of everything that reminds her of her dog)! Joel brings two garbage bags full of stuff - a funny sight indeed. But what is more evocative is the emotional center of the film - the topsy-turvy relationship between Joel and Clementine. Joel argues about her constantly changing hair color, her moods, her talkativeness, her supposed inability to bring up a child. Clementine argues about Joel's excuses not to pursue fatherhood, and how he hurtfully accuses her of sleeping around - simply put, Joel is an insular guy who has a blank journal. Can this love last?

Jim Carrey is pitch-perfect as Joel, showing all his insecurities and thoughts up on the screen without budging or resorting to overkill. I knew Carrey could pull it off, unless the audience has a short-term memory of the likes of "The Truman Show" and "The Majestic." And he has exciting chemistry with Kate Winslet (in her defining role for many years to come) as the irrepressible, high-spirited Clementine - as the film reaches its unpredictable conclusion, you'll hope that they remain together. And it is exquisite fun to watch Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst getting high on themselves, almost forgetting they are erasing someone's memory.

"The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" may not convert many mainstream tastes to Charlie Kaufman's offbeat, preternatural ideas. The film itself may be a little too frenetic and bizarre in its leaps across time and space to make them care much, and those expecting a Jim Carrey comedy may be disappointed. But for those who are brave and adventurous, this film will be a rewarding experience in every way - I never thought I'd say this but it is the perfect date movie. It questions the fragility of a relationship, and how the memories make us who we are as human beings - why should we delete the experience of a break-up when there are always some good moments to treasure? I just hope this film catches on and shows what romantic comedies have tried to do for years and have never truly succeeded at - to define love in all its glory and in all its flaws. It's always the memories of past relationships that stay with us and define who we are.

Copyright 2004 Jerry Saravia

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