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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless MindReview - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
DVD
by Michel Gondry
MCA Home Video, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Dec 16th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 51)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love story. Joel (Jim Carey) is shy and awkward while Clementine (Kate Winslet) is impulsive and spontaneous. They fall in love because they complement each other so well. But their difference also drives each other crazy and feed each other's insecurities. When they break up, Joel accuses Clementine of sleeping with someone else, and she uses that to have power over him. But when he says that he assumes she would sleep with another man because that's how she gets men to like her, she is deeply wounded and runs out of his apartment.

The story is set over two days of real time. It starts with Joel and Clem meeting at the beach by coincidence just after he has had his memories of her erased by Lacuna Enterprises at his own request, and a few days after she had her memories of him erased. They quickly fall in love all over again, without realizing this is the second time they have done this. The emotional climax of the film comes when they learn the truth that they have already gone through a relationship that failed, and they have to decide what to do. They choose to be together even knowing that they will make each other miserable, because they can also make each other happy.

However, what's remarkable about this film is how it deals with memory. The bulk of the film takes place inside Joel's mind, during the night that his memories of Clem are being erased. Joel starts to understand what is happening and changes his mind, because he cherishes his memories of her so much. So he starts to scheme with the Clem of his memories how to beat the memory eraser. In fact, in these scenes, Clem often says his own thoughts out loud, so the whole film is a meditation on this relationship. Since his memories are fragmentary and non-linear, the story skips around their whole relationship. For some people such as myself, the effect is very confusing at first, and it is only on the second viewing that the plot really clarifies. This is a film that rewards multiple viewings, and the screenplay writer Charlie Kaufman explains in the commentary that he designed it that way.

The performances are wonderful: Jim Carey is forced to be far more restrained than usual, while Kate Winslet is out of control in a Carey-esque way. Kirsten Dunst plays a secretary at Lacuna Enterprises, and Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson play the technicians and the doctor. There's a lot of improvisation and the disconnected nature of the plot make even the scripted parts quite real. Director Michel Gondry explains in the commentary that he encouraged the actors to surprise each other to be able to catch their real reaction to each other. While most of the film is set in the world of Joel's mind and so is not constrained by the limits of ordinary reality, the film is made in a surprisingly naturalistic fashion. Rather than use computer generated special effects, Gondry uses forced perspectives and old fashioned tricks with actors rushing behind the camera while it pans around a room so it looks like they are in two places at the same time. The technique works very well, so the fantasy has a quality of being real.

The DVD commentary with Gondry and Kaufman is illuminating but a little strange, since Kaufman is quiet to the point of surliness. Gondry repeatedly tries to provoke him to say something or comment on what is happening, and Kaufman gives monosyllabic replies of "yes" or "hmmmm." Occasionally, Kaufman says a little more about his thoughts as screenwriter, but especially in the second half, he seems very reluctant to say anything. At the end of the commentary, the two men bid goodbye to each other, saying "see you" giving the impression that they might not ever talk to each other again. There is also a short piece on the DVD with scenes from the making of the film and a conversation between Carey and Gondry, which is more enthusiastic and shows some of the directing process.

Eternal Sunshine is a film that definitely rewards repeated viewing. It is set in Long Island, in the town of Rockville and on the beach at Montauk, and for people who are familiar with the area, the sense of location adds strongly to the richness of the film. It's a sophisticated movie with major stars that delves into some of the stranger moments of relationships. Definitely one of the best films of 2004.

 

2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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