Thursday, August 9, 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)


When recommending this one to friends and family, one of the first comments I would hear was "I don't really like Jim Carrey movies." Well, neither do I. But to put this one into the same category as Ace Ventura or The Mask is a shame. Because Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of the most daring, imaginative, and inventive films of this or any other decade. But even that doesn't quite describe the emotional honesty that lies beneath the surface of its visual flair and hallucinogenic storyline. It's honestly one of the most accurate films about the beginnings and endings of a relationship that I've ever encountered.

The basic premise is that Joel and Clementine meet, fall in love, the relationship runs it's course, and they have a very nasty breakup. Then, Joel finds out that Clementine had Joel completely erased from her memory through a company called Lacuna, Inc.

Out of spite, Joel decides that he will do the same. And so we retrace the journey of their relationship from the most recent painful memories and into the older memories from better times. In the midst of the procedure, Joel decides he doesn't want to continue the procedure and that he wants to hold on to these memories, but he's powerless to stop it, so he stands idly by while all of the good memories they shared are erased from his memory one by one, until he has nothing left of Clementine and the time they spent together.

What could have been precious or overly sentimental comes off as completely sincere and genuine. Adding to that, director Michel Gondry brings the same kind of surrealistic point of view that he has brought to countless Björk videos, which truly makes for a memorable cinematic experience. Both the visual sequences and the underlying story linger long in the mind after the film has ended.

As for the problematic leading actor, not a trace of Jim Carrey as you know him is to be found here. He's completely restrained and he more or less plays the "straight man" here; there's no room for facial contortions and idiotic impressions. As Joel, he's meek and passive aggressive, with a shyness and vulnerability to which it's easy to relate.And he's quite good. On the other hand, Kate Winslet, in one of her first roles not involving a corset, makes a notable impression as the wilder of the couple. She's flaky, irresponsible and highly impulsive. In other words, everything Joel is not.

And it's easy to see why these two would fall in love for all their differences, and equally as understandable that these same differences would be what ultimately dooms their relationship.

But like the visual trip from Gondry's astounding visuals, you also get the mental mindfuck along the way by piecing everything together as it goes along and still having everything turned on its head by the end.

On top of all of these qualities, you have excellent and dynamic supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo. Elijah Wood is also in it, and if there's a weak spot to be found, it's him, playing out of his league. But that one quibble aside, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is just an amazingly beautiful and honest look at relationships: The giddy exhilaration and anxiety pangs at the outset, the regrets and bitterness that boils over at the end, and everything in between.

If you've ever avoided this movie by saying "Well, I don't really like Jim Carrey movies," smack yourself, get over it, and go out and see this as soon as humanly possible. Because, however you define what a Jim Carrey movie is, this is the exact antithesis of that.

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