From the same accomplished bloke that gave us creative gems like ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Adaptation’ comes another deep, thought provoking script that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Charlie Kaufman is one of today’s most gifted screen writers. After what was his most commercial film to date (Adaptation), I’m sure there was a bit of pressure for the next project but ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ doesn’t disappoint as its one of if not the most touching scripts Kaufman has ever written. Toss in some good direction and even better acting, the sum could equal what I believe could be one of the best movies of 2004. While some critics may complain that the movie is confusing in direction, I actually think its focus and style fits quite well with the kind of story the film was trying to tell. The story while mushy is exceptionally written and comes out well on screen to the point where I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see something new, fresh and what could possibly (and finally) be Carrey’s first Oscar nomination. It’s in my humble opinion an early favorite for next year’s Oscar season as it has all the elements that make for a great film. It’s one of those films that lefts an impression and is one that I think will be remembered for years and decades to come as it is the best work many of the people involved have ever created. ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ is a touching film that may be a tad on the weird side, but is worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something romantic and moving yet off the wall weird all at the same time.
The film revolves around and is basically elevated to greatness by the stunning performance of Jim Carrey. He plays a normal, shy and very closed off from the world kind of character named Joel, a lonely man who falls head over heels in love with a woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet). We don’t learn too much about Joel, the basic details about what he does for a living and all that carp. Instead the film does its best to focus on the here and now, only providing details of his past or his past with Clementine when necessary or when it provides depth. The lacking in background really isn’t that necessary anyway, as it would have distracted us from the film’s focus that was Joel’s love for Clementine and the memories that he eventually learned were worth keeping for better or worse.
There’s nothing weird or eccentric about Carrey’s character in this film and nothing dramatic happens to him in real life either, which is what makes this role so different compared to the other over the top characters that’s he’s played in the past. In those films, his characters evolve to something better than what they were before, but not this time as Joel realizes that while imperfect there really was nothing wrong with him or the woman he loved in the first place. Their journey merely shows the couple what they had had and that is what Joel and Clementine eventually wanted to get back instead of the bliss that was promised after the systematic deletion of his feelings and thoughts. Carrey’s was a performance that was so superb; it’s clearly his best when it comes to dramatic roles. His earlier showings in Truman Show and even ‘Man On The Moon’ have nothing on this film as Carrey makes something out of what is really nothing, all without having to act like the goofy funny man that everyone knows and loves. There are some very funny moments in this film, but they are not at the expense of Carrey or his character, and it’s this kind of refreshing performance alone that makes the film a must see.
The rest of the cast is just as impressive, especially Kate Winslet who plays a flamboyant and off the charts Clementine, Joel’s love interest. Kate’s character is the polar opposite of Jim’s dull and normal existence and while they clash often, they do share a great chemistry that makes you care about these character so much that you mentally beg the writers to let them to get off their destructive paths and find their way back to each other and they love they have. Other cast members such as Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and especially Tom Wilkinson make the movie that much better with decent showings that while not earth shattering in their roles chip is enough to make the film better with their contributions. They provide some interesting background and depth to the film’s complex story and create the irony that surrounds it, showing both the innocence and cynical nature of the people working in the clinic. While some of them live in denial and insist that they’re providing a good service that could clearly be considered inhumane to others. It’s this concept of ‘the clinic’ that makes this story believable.
Clearly the film’s best element is its storyline. The plot explores the interesting ideals and moral conflicts surrounding the concept of memory loss… or the deliberate attempt to ‘erase’ those memories to get over a lost love or a downright hurtful relationship. The doctor repeatedly tries to tell everyone that he’s just trying to help people move on with life without their pain. An interesting notion, but is he trying to convince the client or himself that what he’s doing is all right? Eternal Sunshine’s basic plot has two lovers whose relationship is so awful and heartbreaking that they would be better off not being able to remember it at all. Like two childish brats, she goes overboard when wiping him from her memory after a vicious comment he makes in an argument, and then he follows suit in an attempt to hurt her, which is hard to explain because one would think it would rather difficult to hurt someone who is unable to remember you.
The script is basically one someone would classify as science fiction, but it doesn’t act like it belongs in the genre. It’s based in this year and works with a very, very simple concept (memory deletion) and tugged only on that single string to see what effect it had on Joel’s house of cards, which in one case resulted in it falling apart. We learn that wiping one person out of his memory actually managed to delete more than just his present memories (the Huckleberry Hound memories would be a good example) proving that it was a lot more dangerous that the doctor had originally thought. There are no stereotypes and zero clichés as the characters are completely three-dimensional as every quirk and flaw in each character was completely believable. After a while, you even forget you’re watching the same Jim Carrey who was the same nutcase in movies like Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura… and ditto for Kate Winslet who also happens to give a career performance. It’s one of the more intelligent movies to come out in the last few years, as it leaves you with a lot of intellectual issues to chew on long after you’ve left the theatre.
A lot of the credit for this sensational film has to go to Charlie Kaufman for writing another breathtaking script. He’s slowly becoming the David Mamet of the 21st Century… spitting out one exceptional screenplay after another with complete ease. Because of this brilliant display of writing and some gifted direction from Gondry, Eternal Sunshine is a well-crafted and elegant work of art. Gordy’s music video influence is very present in this film but doesn’t seem to distract as much as it did in the last film he made with Kaufman (an interesting but average film titled ‘Human Nature’). The film happens to be both softly subtle in some parts and then brutally blunt at others, but it’s all managed quite well and cleanly cut together to create a smooth pace that never seems to get on your nerves. As you watch the random memories that are within Joel’s subconscious as the background is put together piece by piece like an enormous jig-saw puzzle, you get just enough time to appreciate the complex and very genuine nature of Joel’s relationship with Clementine before it vanishes as quickly as it arrived. You watch the scenes, trying to piece things together much like Joel was in his own mind, and then watch the whole thing fall apart when the looming darkness finally arrived to engulf everything and take away his best memories to save him from the worst. It’s a concept that was both refreshing and real. To Joel and the audience the outside world seems to be brighter and full of potential and hope. Eternal Sunshine gives you that feel good ending without having to alter or sell out it characters while at the same time leaving you with something normal, but very special all at the same time.
Overall, ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ is an exceptional film that must be considered an early candidate to be the best movie of 2004. I highly recommend it to people who are fans of Kaufman’s previous scripts, as well to those who are big fans of Carrey’s other previous dramatic performances. None of them will walk out of this film disappointed, as it’s a movie going experience that will leave many quite satisfied. To me it was the perfect love story, a romantic juggernaut that holds nothing back and leaves you in awe of it’s presence while at the same time being loyal to its characters and the story it was trying to tell. There was also no cheap, clichéd happy ending that you see coming a mile away. This movie comes highly recommended, as there isn’t a movie out there right now that is as inspiring and off the charts brilliant. With great story, direction and acting… it would be hard to find a better movie out there right now or for the rest of the year.