From the brilliantly eccentric minds of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) and visionary director Michel Gondry comes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a romantic comedy that's unlike any other. The film's screenplay, which deals with familiar themes of reconciliation and redemption, is constantly surprising in the direction that it chooses to go. Kaufman and Gondry, who are themselves rather unconventional, avoid the clichés of both the comedy and romance genres.
The film's non-linear narrative structure, which may at times be confusing, enables viewers to forget about the illusory logical world that we live in and transports them to another world that manages to be believable because it is firmly grounded in real human emotion.
Joel Barish, an introverted and lonely man, is stunned when he finds out that his former girlfriend, the fiercely independent and frequently manic Clementine, has had a procedure performed that has erased Joel from her memory. Confused and distraught, Joel impulsively decides that he too wants to forget their troubled relationship so he meets with Dr. Mierzwiak, the founder of the Lacuna Corporation, where the procedure was invented. Dr. Mierzwiak explains the details of the non-surgical procedure and Joel tells him of his past with Clementine. Later that night Joel takes an unnamed pill prescribed by Mierzwiak and then he falls into a deep sleep. Then two programmers (or deprogrammers depending on how you look at it), named Stan and Patrick, begin the process of erasing Joel's painful past. But Joel is not entirely unconscious and he's able to hear some of what Stan and Patrick are saying. Joel overhears Patrick admit that he's been using Clementine's erased memories to seduce her. Later Patrick actually leaves Joel's apartment when Clementine calls him sounding distressed.
As Joel revisits his past and watches helplessly as his memories of Clementine are deconstructed, he is reminded of why he fell in love with her to begin with. Desperate to wake up and stop the procedure, Joel attempts to communicate with Stan. However he fails. Next he tries hiding Clementine in memories where she doesn't belong.
Meanwhile Patrick uses his intimate knowledge of Clementine to try and puppeteer their relationship, but instead Clementine finds him to be predictable and superficial.
While Patrick's attempts at seduction prove to be a failure, Stan becomes distracted when his own girlfriend, Mary, comes to visit him. Stan stops overseeing the procedure and is away from the computer monitor long enough for Joel to become lost in his memories. When Stan realizes that Joel is resisting the memory-erasure program, he panics and calls Dr. Mierzwiak, who after a few attempts is able to redirect Joel's memories and continue with the procedure.
After Joel awakens the next morning, feeling empty and adrift, he calls into work sick and inexplicably takes a train to Montauk, where unbeknownst to him, he and Clementine had once gone on a date. By coincidence (or is it?) Joel and Clementine are reunited there and they instantly feel a magnetic allure to one another, though neither knows that they had once been lovers. However, they soon discover their forgotten pasts and together they question whether or not it's possible to start anew and rectify their mistakes.
Director Michel Gondry heightens the emotional impact of the film with an eerily detached visual style. Using simple methods of on-screen sleight of hand and clever editing, he creates a bizarre world in Joel's semi-conscious mind as his memories are torn apart. But the really astounding effects are not those done in the cutting room. What makes this film so powerful is its cast of dysfunctional yet relatable characters.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind features an all-star cast including Jim Carrey as Joel, Kate Winslet as Clementine, Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Mierzwiak, Mark Ruffalo as Stan, Kirsten Dunst as Mary, and Elijah Wood as Patrick. Jim Carrey gives an amazingly sincere performance without the excessive and abrasive slapstick demeanor that he's known for. Kate Winslet is superb in her portrayal of the highly individualized Clementine, who goes from charming to intimidating in a mere matter of seconds. Kirsten Dunst gives her most genuine performance as the outwardly confident yet internally insecure Mary. In fact the entire cast does some of their best work, making the film truly unforgettable.
In a strange way, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind possesses an almost nostalgic quality. Each viewer will find pieces of themselves in the frailties of the characters as they struggle with their own neuroses and revisit the past events that helped to shape who they've become. In one of the film's most memorable scenes Joel relives the humiliations of his childhood and as viewers, we can't help but wonder how our own long-forgotten blunders have affected our present selves. It is in this way that the film is enhanced by a beautiful and all-too-familiar fragility. It shows us the failures of the human race: our insecurities, our egos, our need to run away from the intrinsically painful truth. Yet in the end we are left with a hope that we may still learn from our mistakes.
What did you think of this review?
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American psychological-drama film by director Michel Gondry. The film uses elements of science fiction, nonlinear narration and neosurrealism to explore the nature of memory and romantic love. It opened in North America on March 19, 2004 and grossed over US$70 million worldwide.
Gondry worked on the story with writer/director Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth, a French performance artist. Together, they won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2005, alongside a nomination for Kate Winslet for Best Actress that year. The film stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and features Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, and David Cross.