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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The dreamlike nature of reminiscence
by Hubert Huang on Aug 20, 2004
With the Academy's crowning of The Return of the King as the greatest film of all time- tied with Titanic (my stomach is churning)- science-fiction may have gained a certain legitimacy it lacked before. Gone are the days when worlds filled with Hobbits, Wizards and Elves can simply be laughed off. Now, one could describe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as science-fiction, but unlike most films of that genre, the world he creates isn't an altogether new universe or unreachable extension of the world we live in. Rather, this new place is contained within the mundane universe that all of us know.
Jim Carrey stars as the painfully shy Joel, who lacks the fortitude to even make eye contact with the opposite sex, preferring instead to express his thoughts in a journal that he never intends to share with another. His lonely life is interrupted one day by Clementine (Kate Winslet), a scattered young woman who attempts to conceal her social ineptitude by constant speech. Intimacy quickly develops between them; a magical feeling for two people that have never considered themselves a worthy match for anyone. Of course, this is just the setup that should have been expected, given that this is a Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) script. The film really begins when Joel receives a postcard from a mysterious company stating that he has been erased from Clementine's memory.
From there, the movie diverts from linear storytelling, instead blending together a series of Joel's memories to reproduce the dreamlike nature of reminiscence. Similarly, our own memories don't form a continuous reel to be viewed chronologically from start to finish. Rather, they more closely resemble a set of slides that together form a composite sketch of what we consider the essence of our life. Oddly though, recollection of life's prominent events isn't etched in stone, but evolves along with us, seemingly growing more detailed even as the memories are left further behind. And though the film is clever enough to consider all of these facets, they may not be worth contemplating while watching the film. It takes about 100 minutes before all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, but once they do almost everything makes sense- a significant accomplishment for a movie this experimental.
Though Carrey's name alone will create an audience for the film, this isn't the flailing and impulsive caricature that we are accustomed to seeing. Carrey, who I imagine is about the least self-conscious man on Earth, does an impressive job of portraying the neurotic Joel. By his standards, it's a reasonably restrained performance, though his trademark physical comedy isn't entirely absent. In fact, it is Winslet who plays the animated half of the duo. She effortlessly transforms into the mercurial Clementine, who dyes her curly locks as often as most people change socks. Even the side characters are multi-dimensional, each with their own quirks to unveil and secrets to reveal. This is what is intended with an ensemble cast – Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me) and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) are expectably good, while Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst rise to the level of their more critically acclaimed co-stars.
Generally, I don't watch something in the theater twice. However, Eternal Sunshine is certainly one that I'll be compelled to shell out another ten bucks to see. If allowed to focus on the details rather than the big picture, there will certainly be things I can catch that were initially missed. The first time around, I marveled at how the film captured the surreal feeling of meeting someone with whom you connect, and how colorfully it illustrates the mélange of security, joy, ennui and hatred that comprise a loving relationship- all while making you laugh out loud. What the second viewing will bring is unclear, but I am very much looking forward to it.
Note: During the screening, the projector broke. For this reason, I've yet to see the last 10-15 minutes of the film, though I think I have a good idea of how the film will end.
by Hubert Huang on Aug 20, 2004