“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Movie Review

I’m honestly not quite sure if this was the best or worst movie for me to watch in preparation for Valentine’s Day. All I’ll say is that, as a hopeless romantic myself, I think I might have related to it a little more than I should have. This science-fiction romantic-dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide on March 19th, 2004. Made on a budget of $20 million, it made over $72.3 million at the box office, making it one of the director’s most profitable films to date. It also earned critical acclaim, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and has developed a strong cult following in the years since. Many critics have even gone so far as to call it one of the best films of 21st century cinema. Directed by Michel Gondry, the idea was initially conceived in the 1990’s when his creative partner Pierre Bismuth mentioned how a friend said she wanted to erase her ex-boyfriend from her memory. Originally designed to be an art experiment, the two hired Charlie Kaufman to write the screenplay proper, who rejected Focus Features initial idea of making it into a thriller. The script was consistently rewritten during the film process, and a number of scenes were either toned down or just cut out entirely. Jim Carrey stars as Joel Barish, an introvert who can never seem to find the right person for a relationship. One day, his prayers are seemingly answered by a blue-haired woman named Clementine Kruczynski, played by Kate Winslet, but the two suffer a terrible breakup after two years together. Heartbroken beyond repair, they then resolve to have a firm called Lacuna Inc. erase all memories of each other from their brains. But as Joel journeys down the rabbit hole, he soon realizes that he’s still in love with her and tries to preserve her memory by any means necessary. Although I’m not well acquainted with Gondry’s filmography, I do really like Charlie Kaufman’s work as a screenwriter. His debut Being John Malkovich is one of the most original and wildly eccentric films to ever come out of the medium, and while his other works are mixed bags, I can definitely appreciate his ambition. I was long interested in checking this film out, primarily because people kept boasting it as one of the best science-fiction films ever made, and one of the best films of the last 20 years. And let’s face it, we’ve all met at least one person in our lives that we’d love to complete wipe from our brains. And while I’m not quite convinced that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the 2000’s-defining masterpiece many make it out to be, it’s still a wonderful movie worth watching. What surprised me a lot was how the film shares many similarities with Spike Jonze’s own sci-fi film Her. By that, I mean both films use a sci-fi concept or idea as a means to open up its characters and story, but doesn’t entirely rely on it as a crutch. Eternal Sunshine obviously couldn’t exist without its core conceit, but the impressive thing is how often Gondry and Kaufman push it to the background to give leeway to a genuinely tragic love story. Of course, this being a Kaufman script, it’s never that simple and practically indulges on taking the audience for a head-whirl. Jim Carrey has always been best when balancing humor and drama together, and his performance as Joel Barish is a perfect example of this. More melancholy than his turn in The Truman Show, he believably portrays a soft-spoken man with a huge emotional void looking for loving relationship. Opposite him is Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski, which deservedly earned her a Best Actress nomination. An unconventional love interest if ever there was one, she completely foregoes the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” stereotype. Elijah Wood is also worth mentioning as Patrick, a slimy, creepy guy trying to take advantage of the memory erasure. It’s a complete far cry from his role as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and one that makes his career even more fascinating. Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst all do respectable work as various members of Lacuna Inc. I wasn’t expecting to get interested in their stories, which play alongside what’s going on inside of Joel’s head. But lo and behold, they managed to be pretty compelling and engaging characters. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind prove to be very distinguished and unique. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography is very inspired and immersive, utilizing mostly a handheld, cinéma vérité style to make the story feel more immediate. For tracking shots, instead of using traditional camera dollies, they used sleds and chariots, continuing the feeling of a disorienting, gradually fading nightmare. It also achieves a number of impressive visual effects in-camera via forced perspective, which contribute even further to Gondry’s uncompromising visual style. The editing is done by Valdís Óskarsdóttir, who reportedly clashed with the writer and director during post-production. It’s absolutely fascinating how well it was cut together, especially with all of the continuity that one would have to keep in check. It uses a number of sudden jumpcuts throughout, similar to French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard. These help to trim so fat off of the 108 minute-long runtime, and create juxtapositions to whatever someone may be saying. Multi-instrumentalist and indie darling Jon Brion provides the film score here, and it’s definitely an interesting one to listen to. Unlike some of his later work, the soundtrack here feels wholly unconventional in its sound and style. The primary theme incorporates a melancholy piano melody and distorted strings to create an effective feeling of heartbreak and nostalgia. He uses these instruments throughout nearly all the tracks, and manages to be touching without resorting to manipulation or mawkishness. There are also a number of pre-existing songs used in spurts throughout the film. The most notable of these is “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by Beck, while plays in the final scene as well as the credits. It’s arguably the best song they could have picked to close out the wholly unique story. All in all, this  might just be the most emotionally involving film in the screenwriter’s repertoire. While I’ll keep defending Being John Malkovich, it’s hard for me to blame anyone who left feeling completely cold. And while this film is by no means a “feel-good” or universal experience, it might be one of his most easily accessible works to date. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a highly creative and introspective story of love and heartbreak. The collaboration between Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman is quite the final product, and stands as one of the most original romances made for cinema. Jim Carrey also performs his heart out in one of his best roles while Kate Winslet breaks typecasting as his perfectly matched soulmate. And despite its weird premise, I guarantee that it’s a good choice for Valentine’s Day, whether you’re in a relationship or not. It may not be for everyone, but it should certainly capture their attention.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s