Although much has been made of Jim Carrey’s ability, or lack thereof, as a dramatic actor, the truth is he hasn’t really had much chance to prove it. With the exception of Man on the Moon most of his performances (Truman Show included), have really just been ‘ol Jim toning it down a notch while everyone else around him seems to pander to his wackiness. At best he was “Jim Carrey” with fewer facially contortions. At worst he was downright boring. I certainly had my doubts as to whether he was capable of playing someone who wasn’t just “Fire Marshall Bill” with less volume. However, it can safely be said that in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Jim Carrey has actually crafted a character from his soul and his performance is truly remarkable. Carrey’s Joel is shy, nervous and introverted, but not in a neurotically twitchy way like Nicholas Cage in Adaptation. We generally care about him and aren’t just waiting for him to do something funny. By getting Carrey to dispose of his usual schtick, director Michel Gondry has exposed a beautiful and vulnerable side to the man who introduced “a*s talking” to the multiplexes. Also, a revelation is Gondry’s direction. After teasing us with his numerous insanely clever music videos, “Eternal Sunshine” puts him in a league with Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze and Sofia Copola as one of the most refreshing directors working in Hollywood right now. Although very entertaining and genuinely funny, his first feature, Human Nature, was a little too mired in the outlandish to be truly brilliant and ended up feeling like a retread of his Bjork collaborations. “Eternal Sunshine,” instead, is fresh, heartfelt and ultimately heartbreaking in its honest portrayal of a modern relationship.
I won’t give away too much of the plot as the true impact of the film is found in navigating the intricacies of the story and the way in which it is told. Joel (Jim Carrey) has just found out that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has erased her memory of him on a whim after a particularly nasty fight. Heartbroken and defeated, Joel decides that the best way to get over her is to have the procedure done as well. Now, this is where things get a little bit harder to relate as the film deftly oscilates between the story of Joel and Clementine’s relationship (told backwards, mostly), Joel’s own feelings towards Clementine as related through his memories, Joel’s memories and their psychological ramifications, Joel’s consciousness of the procedure being performed on him during his memories, and the relationships between the people performing the procedure (Elijah Wood, Kirstin Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and a completely unrecognizable Mark Ruffalo) and their relationships to Joel and Clementine.
Being that the film was scripted by Charlie Kaufman, one might not expect the film to have as uplifting an ending as it ultimately does, as most of his films could hardly be accused of extolling human virtue. Yet somehow, because of how painful it does get in fact, the final twist resonates that much stronger and we are left with a film that has quietly and powerfully lived up to its potential.