Please don't take my sunshine away 

A review of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

click to enlarge Jim Carey and Kate Winslet
  • Jim Carey and Kate Winslet

*Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (R)
Focus Feature

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has led cinemagoers down a number of perplexing rabbit holes in his films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by music video master Michel Gondry, Kaufman has created another ethereal portal of consciousness, this one designed to erase the memory of a beloved.

Jim Carrey stars as Joel, a borderline depressive who opens the film with a litany of self-loathing and uncertainty reminiscent of Nicolas Cage's neurotic character in Adaptation. Joel has decided to skip work and, inexplicably, takes the train out of New York City to Montauk, Long Island, on a bitter winter's day. There, through the mist of a frozen gray day, he spots a woman in a bright orange sweatshirt. She is Clementine, a big talker with blue hair played manically by the ever-delightful Kate Winslet. Hesitantly, Joel and Clementine hit it off. By the end of the day, he has invited her over to his apartment, and she has stopped by home to get her toothbrush.

Here the narrative veers -- forward or backward? We don't know. But Carrey is driving wildly through the city, crying, raw with pain. Joel has visited Clementine at her workplace (Barnes and Noble) and she doesn't recognize him. What's more, she appears to already have a new boyfriend and her hair is a different color -- tangerine. From friends, he discovers that she has visited a mysterious outfit named Lacuna where Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) erases memories of relationships from people's minds. In the Lacuna waiting room, a woman sits in a chair weeping, clinging to a doggie bone and a bowl. We understand that she will soon forget the dog existed and will no longer feel the pain of loss.

When Joel decides to erase Clementine, Eternal Sunshine spirals around the erasure procedure, a dissonant subplot involving three Lacuna employees (Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo), and tricks of memory. Joel's mind races, trying to cling to one memory of Clementine, retreating far back into his childhood, to moments no one knows about. Here, the film becomes a mini-masterpiece of illusion, romance and vague horror.

Kaufman's script is sharp and witty. He's great at creating longing begat of separation from experience. His characters inhabit an inner-focused world that rarely offers moments of clarity. Gondry's direction and cinematographer Ellen Kuras' fuzzy, jittery camera work combine to perfectly accent Kaufman's anticipatory script.

But Eternal Sunshine transcends concept and technique through the wonderful, deeply human performances of Carrey and Winslet (and, to a lesser degree, of the supporting cast). Carrey's turn as Joel is carefully stifled and plugged. His usual self-absorbed, extroverted craziness is there in his eyes, but not in his actions, his posture or anywhere visible in his character's interaction with the world and the woman he believes is his one true love. Carrey has turned an important corner as an actor with this role.

Winslet is wildly offbeat and uninhibited, lovely and lyrical. While we root for the two of them, we know their love is doomed to compromise, as are all relationships. The surprise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is its uncompromising sentiment that, in love, flawed or not, a second chance is something worth fighting for.

Kaufman has created an upside-down romantic screwball comedy/ pseudo sci-fi adventure/ psychological thriller that's thoroughly original and totally uplifting. The final moments of this film wash the viewer in well-earned hope. That, in this cinema season of eternal bleakness, is a welcome ray of sunshine.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16'

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