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USA 2004
Directed by
Michel Gondry
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

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)

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is a shy and lonely working stiff who falls for free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). Attracted to each other by their opposite natures their relationship gets off to a cracking start but co-habitation soon reverses the polarity. Clementine decides Joel is boring, he that she is too self-preoccupied and they break up. When Joel discovers that Clementine has had her memories of him erased by Dr. Howard Mierzqwiak (Tom Wilkinson) he decides to do the same but mid-procedure, fueled by his own emotional neediness, he starts to resist.

Whilst Michel Gondry’s much-admired film is impressive in its inventiveness developing its concept in a way that Kaufman’s thematically-related script for Being John Malkovich (1999) did not, due in part, one suspects, thanks to the director’s more mercurial sensibility, the achronological mental roller-coaster ride that cleverly transmogrifies the underlying boy-meets-girl, boy-lose-girl, boy-gets-girl-back template into a convoluted construction (an approach that Kaufman would take even further with Synecdoche, New York 2008) tends to overwhelm the emotional charge which ultimately is the goal of the rom-com.

This is very apparent when one compares the relationship between Wilkinson’s Dr. Mierzqwiak  and his receptionist (Kirsten Dunst) with that between Joel and Clementine. The former is effectively sketched out in one relatively short sequence of scenes whereas the latter is refracted and reiterated in divers ways that don’t really connect emotionally whilst nevertheless falling back on an overly reassuring and rather prosaic resolution. 

Although a refreshingly clever take on the loneliness of the human heart less emphasis on the narratively complex break-up and more on the physical and psychological realities that went into forming and sustaining the relationship would have helped to warm up this largely cerebral film.

Whether Jim Carrey was the best choice for the part of Joel is questionable. Certainly he dials it down from his hyperbolic comedic style but arguably he tends to overdo the hang-dog and as a result it really never seems convincing that Clementine would take up with him (or that they would go to domesticity in the blink of an eye). On the other hand Mark Ruffalo is amusing as Stan, Dr. Mierzqwiak‘s technician and Elijah Wood round out proceedings as Stan’s shifty assistant.

FYI: If you found the premise 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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