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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 19 March 2004
Much of the rest of the film is a flashback, in which we learn that Joel and Clementine actually knew each other before – in fact, they were lovers – but they’ve just forgotten about it. No, the relationship wasn’t a deeply unmemorable one-night stand. Clementine was so upset after an argument that she had an unorthodox procedure done to erase Joel from her mind. When Joel finds out about this, he is so distraught that he arranges to have the procedure done as well. Once it’s underway, he changes his mind and doesn’t want to lose Clementine in every single way, but can he stop the process?

What the script by Charlie Kaufman, who created the story with director Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth, does very well is convince us that love is present in the first place, so that the “love finds a way” message is supported by what we’re seeing onscreen. Although technically “Eternal Sunshine” is a science-fiction/fantasy, with the memory wipe procedure and the ways Joel tries to circumvent it as key elements, it feels more like a scruffy, warm romantic comedy with some really eccentric flourishes. Director Gondry uses desaturated colors in the opening sequence, making Joel’s memory-deprived state visibly bleak, then provides brilliantly-hued reds and blues later on to punctuate emotional highlights.

Music is used to good effect, with a fragment of Phil Collins pop to cue a moment that seems like a conventional connection, a bit of Japanese music to convey disorientation and a somber ballad over grainy photography to emphasize depression. An ominous bonging bell contributes to the gloom when Joel is feeling truly helpless and wobbly sound is deliberately employed in some flashbacks to enhance Joel’s increasing difficulty in being able to focus on his memories.

Carrey plays it effortlessly straight here, coming across as an unremarkable but kind man who is truly smitten by Clem. Winslet does a wonderful job with her mercurial character, able to take Clem through her personality shifts without ever seeming petty or bitchy – she makes sense of the character and in turn makes her coherent for us. Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood are all strong in supporting roles.

Much of the skill of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is visible in how readily understandable it is, despite its odd structure (the memory erasure takes us backwards through Joel and Clem’s relationship, from finish to start). However, the movie’s real success is in both having something to say about the power of love and being able to say it in a way that entertains us.

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