- Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Director: Michel Gondry
- Date: 2004
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Romance, SF, Drama
- Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson
- Format: Color, Widescreen
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“My embarrassing admission is that I really like that you’re nice. Right now, I mean, I can’t tell from one moment to the next what I’m going to like, but, right now, I’m glad you are.” – Clementine
“Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but its, its on a par with a night of heavy drinking.” – Dr. Howard Mierzwiak
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not your typical romantic comedy – it isn’t even a typical film in the rarer genre of romantic tragedy. The film starts with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) waking up, heading off to work, then playing hooky and taking the train to a beachside community in the middle of Winter, to be precise, on Valentine’s Day. He runs into a strange girl with bright blue hair, named Clementine, and the two start to hit it off. However, the film then diverges off into unusual and different territory. Joel discovers that Clementine, his girlfriend of two years, had him erased from her memory. Joel, in a pique of anger then decides to erase her from his memory.
However, the film doesn’t tell this story linearly. We see Joel going to the Lucuna Clinic to have Clementine erased. He explains why he wants to forget her. He looks at objects from their relationship (mementos, gifts, etc) and thinks about his memories of her while undergoing CAT Scans to map his memory. That night he takes a sleeping pill. Three people from the Lucuna Clinic arrive at his apartment to erase his memory – Stan, Patrick, and Mary. However, they do not act like medical professionals, but rather like irresponsible party guys (and gal). While Stan’s laptop computer performs the procedure – they drink, and do drugs. Patrick leaves pretty quickly so he can see his girlfriend – Clementine. Stan and Mary get even more drunk and stoned, and before long Mary’s dancing on Joel’s bed in her underwear. Eventually, both Stan and Mary are dancing in their underwear.
Meanwhile, in a series of flashbacks, as Joel is undergoing the procedure – he remembers the times, the moments, he’s spent with Clementine. He eventually realizes just how good some of those moments were – and tries to keep them. But the procedure works too well, and the audience sees scenes disappear piece by piece, or fade out of existence, or break apart in a pixelated fashion, or turn dark as if the lights were being turned off. The unusual effects heighten the strangeness of the film, but they also visually express Joel losing his memories. As the memories disappear, and Joel gets to his good memories with Clem, he realizes he doesn’t want to forget. He and Clem try to outsmart the procedure by hiding in Joel’s childhood memories – including some of his earliest memories.
At this point, the film flashes back to Joel having the procedure done – where Stan freaks out because “he’s off the map.” Joel calls in Howard (Dr. Mierzwiak) who gets the procedure back on track. However, Mary – who’s still stoned, hits on Howard and even kisses him. Outside, Howard’s wife watches. Howard finds out about this – as Mary tries to explain it was meaningless – Howard’s wife tells her that she and Howard did have an affair, but he performed the procedure on her to make her forget.
Eventually, all of Joel’s memories of Clementine disappear – but as he gets to the memory of the first time they met, a time when Joel walked out, Clem suggests he change what happened and make a new memory. We then flash-forward to the beginning of the film and Joel’s compulsion to go to the beach in the middle of Winter, on Valentine’s Day – where he meets Clem.
But this is not the end of the story. Because as Clem heads into her apt to pick up her toothbrush so she can spend the night with Joel (whom she’s “just met”) she find a letter from Mary, with a copy of her file and a tape of her conversation with the Doctor about why she wants to forget Joel. She starts the tape playing in the cassette player of his car – and he freaks out, accusing her of messing with him. But when he gets home, he find another letter and cassette from Mary for him. He starts to listen to the tape – when Clem arrives. Clem gets so angry at the things he says, she leaves – but Joel pursues her. In the hallway, Clem says they should forget it – bringing up the reasons why their relationship won’t work again. But Joel seems to think they should try anyway.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a forerunner of films like Inception – especially in terms of the effects used to show Joel’s memories being destroyed. It has a very non-linear style – I’ve re-organized the story more linearly in this review, but when you are watching the film it slips easily back and forth between the “present” as Stan, Patrick, Mary, and later Howard work on Joel in his bedroom – and Joel’s scattered memories of his relationship with Clementine. The story is gradually built up in pieces until the audience understands exactly what it going on – it’s a very intelligent film. It asks intelligent questions, If you could completely forget someone – wipe them from your mind, would you? And, there are implications too – What if such a procedure was done without your permission? (The film gets into that briefly – when it’s made clear that although Howard pressured her into it – Mary did give verbal permission for the procedure.) But the film is also about the way relationships twist over time – although Joel’s early (meaning late – or most recent) memories of Clem are of fights and disagreements – his late (meaning earliest) memories are sweet and lovely – and those memories he fights to keep but fails. There are other tiny bits as well – the woman in the clinic with a dog bowl, leash, and such for example. Mary arguing with a woman on the phone that she can’t have the procedure done three times (in a short period is implied). And even the idea of destiny in a relationship.
Jim Carrey is very reserved and quiet as Joel. Even when he and Clem are fighting – he barely raises his voice. He’s very closed off as well. It’s an understated performance, the complete opposite of Carrey’s normal comedic roles – and it shows what a truly great actor he is. Kate Winslet plays Clementine as a free spirit but a bit dumb. Elijah Wood as Patrick is slimy as one of the med techs working on Joel – he admits to Stan he fell in love with Clem when she he erased her mind – and he even stole her panties. Patrick also used Joel’s journal and other mementos of his relationship with Clem (gifts, jewelry, etc) in an attempt to win her over.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a excellent and original film and I recommend it.
Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Justice League: Throne of Atlantis