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USA 2004
Directed by
Michel Gondry
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
4.5 stars

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Synopsis: Joel (Jim Carrey) discovers his once-beloved Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had Joel medically erased from her memory, and he decides to undergo the procedure himself. Half-way through, he has second thoughts and tries to escape by retreating with Clementine into his rapidly diminishing memories.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard" (1717)

You would have to find some particularly strong chains to keep me from a film even partially written by Charlie Kaufman. His first scripts were ingeniously unique black comic dramas: Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation and (to a lesser extent) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Sunshine is all this and more, a witty and moving film about memory and destiny.

Sunshine continues to build on Kaufman's affection for spinning a compelling tale with twisted chronologies and perspectives. Visually, it shares the fluidity and malleability that are characteristic of his first three films, which were directed by either Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry - both known for their music video work. Film provides a great medium to represent the ephemeral stuff of memory. The sense that a good director can paint with light is strong in Sunshine. The erasure and replacement of the scenery of memory around Joel also gives some sense of the mechanics of a stage play.

Despite the narrative/visual trickery, the central idea is tight and contained, giving Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet time to develop believable and recognizable characters. Some of Carrey's purely comic films are very entertaining (and some are pretty bad), but it's in the less commercial films like Man on the Moon and Sunshine that his talent really shines. The strength of the supporting actors (including Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson) complete the ensemble.

The film begins with the shy neurotic Joel seeing the extroverted Clementine on a rainy beach and a relationship begins. After it ends, Joel discovers Clementine has undergone a brain scanning procedure that targets specific memories and erases them, in order to forget him. Impulsively, he decides to do the same thing. During the procedure, we see Joel reliving his good and bad memories of Clementine before they fade and disappear for good. Half-way through, he panics and tries at all costs to take Clementine to ever more remote corners of his mind in which they can hide and survive the erasure.

Meanwhile, the twisting relationships between the supporting characters who play the various medical staff are unfolding around his bedside. Some might find this a distraction, but it serves to mirror and echo the central ideas of the film.

The film mixes comedy and drama as Joel drags Clementine through a tour of his remembered life; from childlike schoolyard humiliations to adult moments of emotional upheaval. Will Joel succeed in saving a memory of Clementine? Even if he doesn't, will fate bring them together again? Would they repeat the past, or what would it take to create something new?

It may sound confusing or indulgent. Yet it is so well-crafted, and about such universally familiar material of love and loss, that it is easy to connect to, laugh at, and even be moved by it. Fabulous stuff!!

FYI: If you found the premiss of this film intriguing then you might like to check out  Alejandro Amenábar's1997 film, Open Your Eyes (which was lamely remade in 2001 as Vanilla Sky).

 

 

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