Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson
Charlie Kaufman was already a well-respected screenwriter by the time Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released back in 2004. He’d already written Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, 2 films that received Oscar nominations for their screenplays (He would then win best original screenplay at the 2004 Oscars for Eternal Sunshine). It’s easy to imagine that there must have been a high expectation on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when it was originally released.
Directed by Michel Gondry (Human Nature, Be Kind Rewind) Eternal Sunshine is a magical and heart-breaking exploration into a dead relationship, the idea that certain people are fated to meet and the way relationships evolve. It follows Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey (The Mask, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber) who has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Clementine, played by Kate Winslet (Heavenly Creatures, Titanic). After finding out that Clementine has had her memories of him erased, Joel decides to have the same procedure completed on himself.
The narrative then shows their relationship in reverse, from its worse moment and break up, through the lows and highs until their eventual meeting. Half-way through Joel changes his mind and tried to stop it. It’s a bittersweet story. At first you won’t feel for the couple, not really knowing them and just seeing the ends of their relationship, but as you get to know them, and as Joel rediscover’s the good memories, you’ll want him to succeed in stopping them from being deleted.
Carrey is mostly known for his silly and over the top comedy performances and apart from one scene, where he is re-living a childhood memory, none of that is on show here. He is subtle, nuanced and gives a really strong performance as the heart broken Joel. His downbeat delivery is engaging from the opening voice over right through to the end. He is brilliant in this film and over the years has received a lot of praise for this, comparing the role with his earlier dramatic breakthrough performance in The Truman Show. Kate Winslet is also exceptional, playing the eccentric and troubled Clementine. She is the heart of the film, and Clementine is a character with so much personality weighed down by the stresses of life, you can’t help but care. Both together are magnetic; their chemistry is great and evident from their first scene together.
On top of this, you have a sub-plot revolving around Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man), Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings), Mark Ruffalo (Who would later find massive fame as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the MCU) and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom). All their characters work at the clinic which is removing Joel’s memories. Most of the narrative takes place in Joel’s head while his memories are being deleted. He is asleep in his bed, while Stan and Patrick (Ruffalo and Wood) complete the procedure. It’s a stark contrast to the bittersweet main plot and works well along side it. Elijah Wood plays one of the creepiest characters imaginable, using Joel’s memories to date Clementine. His behaviour is never punished exactly, but it is horrible to watch, especially with the lack of care from Ruffalo.
The film is told in a very abstract way. Not only is most of the story told in Joel’s mind, with his memories literally dissolving around him, it is also told in a non-linear way, starting at the end of their relationship and working backwards. The dream world around him that store his memories changes from shot to shot, subtly at times and loudly at others. It’s beautifully created, and the effects look great. There are some sequences where faces are distorted that are more unsettling than some horror films. The film looks great and is beautiful to watch. The whole thing is also complimented by a beautiful soundtrack composed by Jon Brion. It all blends together seamlessly to grab your attention and not let it go.
If you’ve only found Kaufman through his more recent Netflix film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things and been put off by the pretentious mess that it is, don’t worry. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is nothing like that. It’s a really great romantic drama film. It’s heart breaking to watch and has some of the best performances from all of the actors involved. The film flies by and doesn’t drag or slow down for a minute. This is something that will stay with you long after the credits roll.