Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth
Cast: Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson
Length: 1 hour and 48 minutes
Genre: Drama, Romance, Science Fiction
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.”
Imagine if you could pick the memories of a bad relationship and, through a medical procedure, erase specific recollections in order to move on with your life. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, characters are able to do just that by going to Lacuna, Inc, a company that erases relationships and sends notifications to friends instructing them not to mention the erased person to the patient. One need only take a prescribed sedative and, by the morning, Lacuna’s technicians will have eradicated those unsavory blemishes in the past as if they were never there. However, as nice as that sounds, there is much more that can be lost than a memory.
Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet on a train from Montauk, NY; he is nice and shy while she is extroverted and self-possessed, if a bit quirky. The film shows them spending a night on a lake (as shown in the featured image) in romantic splendor before jumping to the opening credits with Joel crying and driving through the rain. He has decided to forget Clementine completely after he finds out she had done so to him. In order to do this, Joel must collect everything with an association to Clementine; these items are part of the process to map the brain as they are placed individually in front of the patient.
As Joel goes through the procedure, we see different stages of his relationship with Clementine; the arguments, the last time he saw her, their intimate moments, and happy times are all on display. Joel regrets his decision but, since he is asleep and unable to wake up, he tries to keep his memories of Clementine by moving deeper into his subconscious in order to find somewhere to hide her and hold on. Much of the film takes place within Joel’s memories as he undergoes the procedure, and there are sudden set transitions and lighting changes that show the difference between Joel’s subconscious and the waking world.
Outside of the memories, technicians Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo) are in Joel’s apartment and invite their co-worker, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), over to drink, smoke weed, and hang out (as one does while erasing a person’s memories). While inside the memories, Joel can hear the people outside and this comes across through distorted noises. These strange sounds and images indicate that Joel is getting around the process, and Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) is forced to come in. Once the procedure is back on track, book titles and covers disappear gradually in a memory where Joel is talking to Clementine in the bookstore she works at and music plays backward as Joel goes back through his first, and final, memory of her. These audio and visual tricks help to signify the malleability of memory and the progression of Joel’s lost memories.
Though the idea may initially sound appealing, there is so much of ourselves that is determined and refined by those we love that it is easy to see how meddling with the mind can backfire. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes the viewer through the topsy-turvy terrain of recollections with visual splendor and a compelling story. The decisions we make have unforeseen consequences and, as such, shouldn’t be made hastily. Joel and Clementine eventually question the point of trying to get to know one another after the revelation that they both had undergone the process and, rather than ending on a note of nihilism, the movie takes the path of optimism; though moments are fleeting, we should enjoy the time while we reside within them.
Verdict: 5 wishes resign’d out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of cinematography, people who like Jim Carrey, those who enjoy a little sci-fi in films about relationships, those who have sharp eyes, and fans of good cinema.
Not recommended for: Children, people who dislike Jim Carrey, the easily confused, or those who dislike relationships in their sci-fi movies.
The images featured in this post can be found through the hyperlinks below.