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