"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Throwback Review
Ever been in a bad relationship? You might just want to erase it from your memory. Well, you can’t. But what if you could? What if you could just erase the memory of a person from your brain overnight? Esteemed writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry explore this possibility in their film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Bolstered by career-defining performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, the film is a comedic and heartstring-tugging experience that examines human relation and companionship.
We open with a look inside the life of Joel (Jim Carrey). He wakes up one morning and begins to get ready for work. We get the sense he’s pretty boring and never really does anything besides work and sleep. But today he decides to skip and go out on an adventure. On his adventure, he meets Clementine (Kate Winslet), a fellow oddball that likes to talk and get personal. The two of them couldn’t be more opposite, so naturally, that’s what makes them attract. Their relationship initially starts out rough, but after some time it blossoms into something serious.
And then the hard part comes. They can’t stand each other anymore and decide to call it quits. Joel, taking things very hard, decides to undergo a strange procedure he heard about that can erase the memory of a person from your brain. As he tries to erase Clementine from his memory, Joel’s mind reflects on his past and teaches him the merits of true love and how nothing ever works out perfectly.
This is probably one of the most emotional films you’ll ever watch. The relationship between Joel and Clementine is presented with such love and tenderness that will endlessly play with your feelings. There isn’t a dull moment between the two of them. They’re in a cycle of getting close, growing apart, and reconnecting, rinse and repeat. While it is predictable, it never feels repetitive. This is down to Gondry’s ability to give each rotation a new spin through the use of the camera and visual effects. They’re used sparsely throughout, but always at the right time with great effect. The shining moment of this comes from Joel’s escape from Barnes & Noble through a seemingly magic door that leads directly to his house. It’s a great sequence with lots of intricate techniques that come together neatly.
Another element that works for the film is the questions it raises and the answers it gives. The beginning is muddled with the questionable and strange. From there we are slowly led down a path through the mess of human emotion. From this mess, we find our answers, ones that make you take a good look at yourself and the people in your life. It’s not hokey or overplayed, it’s gripping and used well within the context of the story.
One problem that arises a couple of times throughout is the inability to solely focus on one relationship. You know the central pairing is Joel and Clementine, but there are actually about three other insignificant pairings that crop up from time to time. Now I’m not going to say who’s involved in each one, but what I will say is that every time we were not watching Joel and Clementine is when the story loses some steam.
The performances in this film are some of the strongest I’ve seen, and that credit definitely goes to our two leads. Jim Carrey breaks his usual routine as the rubber-faced madman and gives us a character that is sad, lonely, and complex. He still gets to use his antics from time to time, but he’s mainly subdued and able to personally open up as a person.
Kate Winslet plays his perfect opposite. She’s rambunxious and overly dramatic, but you can always say that she means well. Winslet goes all the way, giving us a performance that is also different from expectations.
Even though you never really get the sense of it, there is a good sized supporting cast always present. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo are the strongest small players that are able to showcase their skills. While his character isn’t well written, Elijah Wood does a pretty good job being the creepy weirdo among charming weirdos. Finally, Tom Wilkinson plays the straight part as the head doctor behind the procedure.
Kaufman’s got another hit on his hands. He’s made one of the most important and educational relationship films out there. It holds a mirror up to you and makes you feel insecure about you and your past. If you’re a person that doesn’t easily open up, you might need this film. Even if you don’t need it, still see it, it deserves your attention.