Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind review by The Grim Ringler

Every year dozens of romantic films are released like emotional weapons of mass destruction, spreading their mediocrity like so much toxic sludge and burying what could have been a sweet film. Am I too harsh? Perhaps, but call me crazy if I don’t buy into most of the crappy sappy romantic films that Hollywood perpetuates. Take, for example the silly eighties romantic comedy Can’t Buy Me Love, a sweet romance with a nice big heart but which is far from great and certainly doesn’t deserve to be much more than an oddity to be fond of in passing. It sure as hell didn’t deserve to be remade this past year and released as a sort of black take on the same tale. And why? The hell of it is that to to much Hollywood romantic films are just a quick way to make a quick buck, and that’s a shame. Though I am not one to gravitate towards romantic films, there are some very sweet, very honest, very wonderful films that are essentially romances but just seem to fall through the cracks as such. Eternal Sunshine is one such film, and one that I really hope more people get a chance to see on video.

Having just lost the love of his life in a break-up that has left him paralyzed with heartache and self-doubt. And when he finds out that she has had him erased from all of her memories by a strange company called Lacuna, Joel decides to have the same procedure done in order to remove this woman he has lost from every moment of his past. That night Joel is given a pill to take and when he has passed out from it and is safely asleep two bumbling technicians slip into his apartment and set up the computers that will erase all memory of Clementine by the time morning arrives. At first things progress smoothly, the memories falling one by one and Joel, living in these dying memories, are happy to see them go. At first… But as the memories fall one unto the next into nothingness Joel realizes that, problems though they may have had, he doesn’t want to lose, if nothing else, his memories of Clementine. There is no way for him to stop the process once it has begun though so Joel tracks down Clementine in one of his memories and takes her so they can hide in one of his more obscure memories that is not associated with Clem so that perhaps he can hold onto one last thought of her. Seeing this phenomenon as a glitch in their system though the tech people contact the doctor who created the process of memory erasure and then it is a race between Joel and the doctor to see whether Joel can retain one last emotional vestige of the woman he has loved and lost before losing her forever.

Though the plot may seem very simplistic, don’t be fooled by the plot synopsis, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a very good scriptwriter, has created his best film yet. He takes the idea of a break up and twists it into so many directions that it’s hard to quite know what to think. The film plays with time, with perception, with truth, and finally with the idea of true love. The film asks questions of the audience that I haven’t often seen in the movies and while it gives us answers, none come easily. These are not two adorable people, they are two completely screwed up people that find something beautiful in one another and learn to love one another. But their love is not the ideal we so often see in movies, there is bickering, and anger, and accusations, but there too is beauty and love and sweetness. The relationship between Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet is so heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time that you aren’t sure what you want, if you want him to lose her and all of his memories of her, or to retain something, even if it’s painful, so he still has a memento of this incredible woman. There is also a wonderfully big heart in this film, something that I had not really seen to any great degree in Kaufman’s other films. The idea at the heart of this film is whether there is true love, and if so, if it exists in memory, or in the ‘soul’. We are given two cases of this, one for good and one for ill, both showing the dangerously addictive qualities love contains. There is also a very nice sub-plot about someone trying to ‘trick’ Clementine into loving him using the mementos that Joel had been told to bring to the Lacuna offices in order for the doctors to create a better picture of his brain activity. This brings up the idea of whether it’s the words and things someone uses to whoo someone with that creates love or the person that gives them. Clever stuff.

There is a lot to like about the film. There is some tremendous acting in this film and it all starts with Jim Carrey, who proves again that when he is working on a dramatic film he has what it takes to create a true and honest character. Your heartbreaks as he learns that Clementine has left him and that feeling only deepens when he realizes, in horror, that he may lose every memory of her as well. Kate Winslet is very good as well as, it’s very hard to like her character, because she is a selfish, emotionally screwed up bitch, but deep down she wants to be loved, and loved not because of what she represents – freedom – but for who she is. She does a great job of creating that depth. I also love the direction, which uses the many digital effects wonderfully. In many scenes things will happen in the background that you don’t notice at first but, when you do, the scene becomes not one of romance and melodrama but one of horror as we realize just how these memories are being destroyed. There is also a sense of horror to the film that is played very well. In Joel’s memories people lose their faces, they blur, they become non-people and fade to nothingness. Signs lose their words, houses collapse, it is as if his memories are being attacked by a great natural disaster, which he can only run from and hope to find safety during. And as much as the special effects may help to create the feeling of horror, that something isn’t right, it’s Carrey himself who truly sells this as its his shocked and horrified reactions to what he is losing which gives this film its strength. The film is also very ingenious in that there is a science fiction element – with the idea that you can erase your memories with a special ‘treatment’, but this is done in such a way as to make it almost UN-science fiction. The doctor’s office is cluttered and cramped, his assistants and base and act like horny college students, and the doctor himself, we learn, is far from the great humanitarian he may believe himself to be. The real star though is the writing, which takes the idea of a romantic break up and takes it to levels that are hard to conceive. As dark as it gets, and as strange as the story becomes, this is a truly wonderful love story that has volumes to say about the terrible beauty of love.

The music is also very well chosen and created in this film, never once become intrusive but setting a tone and feeling in the film that never betrays the story.

As much as I adore this film though, it isn’t perfect. The end drags a bit, and so much is thrown at the audience that it gets hard to keep everything straight and I am sure some people will be utterly lost. And for many the film will be far too surreal and strange to invest themselves into the emotional heart of the film. But are these truly problems? Not really, but I have to think of something that holds it back from being a ten. It’s great, just not GREAT!

The hell of it is that, as usual, it’s hard to really discuss this film without spoilers, which is something I refuse to do. My job isn’t to give away the movie, it’s to let you know whether it’s worth seeing, and my answer is oh god yes. This is the perfect film to take someone special or to go with friends and talk about afterwards over nice cold cola refreshments. There is a lot to think about, a lot to talk about, and a lot to look for in a second viewing, which will be all but necessary to understand everything that happens. This is a very intelligent and very well done film. This is the kind of film that it is an utter joy to see and to experience and I am very happy I caught it in a theater, where all there was was darkness and this film. While Eternal Sunshine was sadly neglected at the movie houses upon its release (imagine that, a challenging film being ignored, that NEVER happens) I believe this is one of those films that will enjoy a very vibrant life on DVD and video and which will become a film we talk about for years and years to come. Congrats to everyone on this film, but this film belongs to Charlie Kaufman and it is to him we owe our thanks for creating such a rich and honest love story.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
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