#65: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]

Usually when I’m watching Jim Carrey I want to hit something, preferably him. It’s not that I don’t like him - he’s funny enough; it’s just that he gets in the way. In Eternal Sunshine, however, he plays a shy, awkward and plain normal man called Joel Barish, and plays him well. Just about a minute’s viewing suggested this could be Carrey at his most brilliant. But, I don’t want to go on about him, especially when his co-star Kate Winslet, cast out of type, was nominated for an Academy Award for her laudable performance as the idiosyncratic Clementine Kruczynski. I’m telling you this to explain why I was shocked that I liked this film so much. You see, I’d never seen Eternal Sunshine before because I was expecting a typical Carrey performance and I just wasn’t interested. However, it was so much more than I’d expected, which wasn’t a whole lot seeing as I was told this was a ‘weird’ film.
Here’s the plot: Joel and Clementine meet in Montauk, NY and despite their significant difference of character and temperament, they begin a strong and meaningful relationship. That is, until their differences strike up inevitable tensions. Joel shows up at his now ex-girlfriend’s work to patch things up, only for Clementine to ignore him and focus on her new boyfriend Patrick (Elijah Wood). Joel is simultaneously heartbroken and infuriated. Later, he discovers that Clementine has had her memories of him erased by a company called Lacuna Inc. and decides to have her removed from his memory in revenge. However, as he’s plunged into his subconscious to relive his memories before they’re deleted forever, Joel changes his mind and begins to fight the procedure he has hired Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) and his assistants Stan and Mary (Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst) to perform. I told you it was weird.
From what I’ve read, weird is to be expected from the partnership of director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, so we shouldn’t be surprised. What is surprising though is how well they pull it off; I wasn’t left thinking, “Well, that was bizarre”, but rather I was left poring through roughly a thousand thoughts a minute, seriously damaging my sleeping pattern. To accompany the unconventional, even sci-fi, storyline, Gondry and Kaufman make excellent use of a non-linear narrative form. Seeing as we’re dealing with the realms of memory and the subconscious, this form seems the obvious choice. The point of this narrative style is to move a million miles away from “boy meets girl” and instead to look deeper into the human psyche. They ask: is it better to have loved and lost?; are we defined by our memories?; is it better just to forget the hard times? I haven’t the space to discuss these questions here – it can be your homework.
Instead, I have to compliment the truly remarkable editing of this film. The plot is not an easy one to keep a handle on, what with the removal of time’s influence over the narration, yet between them Gondry and Kaufman keep the story-telling firmly under control. I sat watching in wonder as the scenes of Joel’s subconscious melted into one another, the effects created by some wonderfully inventive cinematography. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then head on over to Blockbusters/Amazon right now. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is pure genius, and it’s just kicked Oldboy off the top spot on my favourites list.