BIASES: C'mon, it's Kaufman. I'm pre-sold.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty), Kate Winslet
(Titanic), Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), producer/screenwriter
Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation), and director Michael Gondry
"I wish I never met you!" This is a harsh statement
that all of us have, at some time, thought about or said
to someone or, worse yet, have had said to us. "Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" gives this phrase a
whole new, disturbing meaning. If you could truly erase
someone from your memory, would you? Better yet, could you?
Joel Barish (Carrey) is a typical, schlubby, Kaufmanesque
hero - shy, sardonic, a touch anti-social. When he finds
out that his recent ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet) has
had the focused erasure of her relationship with him to
the point that she doesn't even recognize him, by golly,
he's going to have the same thing done to him. But as he
undergoes the process, inside his brain he rebels, trying
to steal away his most precious memories of Clementine to
a place the erasure "professionals" of Lacuna,
Inc. can't find them. Mirroring Joel's own fight within
his brain for his memories is a drama that unfolds involving
the Lacuna staff that strikes to the very core of the ethical
and philosophical realities involved in socially engineered
This movie is typical Charlie Kaufman - and that's a great
thing. Oscar-nominated Kaufman is the rare Hollywood screenwriter
whose influence is so pervasive on a film purely through
his writing that he gets director approval on his films
(the equivalent of the Secretary of State getting to approve
the President). Employing his previous collaborator Gondry
from the underseen "Human Nature," Kaufman is
in fine form with his trademark stream of consciousness
dialogue, non-linear storytelling, and playful distortions
of our perception of reality. It's always a visual and technical
challenge to articulate the hyperkinetic Kaufman imagination
but here the production values are all on point. Gondry
uses everything from forced perspective to Gaussian blur
to filter Joel's re-experiencing his myriad of memories,
some as a child, some as an adult.
Finally, Jim Carrey achieves the middle ground as an actor
that portrays the best in his comedic timing and dramatic
talent. Wry, understated, yet still playful in his emotional
yo-yo of a voice, Carrey is perfect for the material and
his shy, journal-writing Joel, a man so down on love he
believes "Valentine's Day is a holiday invented by
greeting card companies to make you feel like crap"
(hmm, Joel might have a point there…). Hoarding a
career's worth of restraint in one film, Carrey is wonderfully
subdued for the most part yet reservedly passionate as a
man who's fundamentally boring to the outside world but
wonderfully alive inside his mind. When Carrey mumbles to
a hyperactive Clementine that "constantly talking isn't
necessarily communicating," not only do you believe
him but also you believe IN him. Ridiculously talented REEL
DEAL Crush Winslet matches Carrey wit for wit, overpowering
him in most scenes due to the irrepressible nature of her
character. Winslet's Clementine is quirky, unpredictable,
sexual, and impulsive, the center of attention in any scene
(usually because of her color-changing hair) as walking,
talking chaos theory. The rest of the cast is spot-on support
with Tom Wilkinson's memory-erasing lead doc, Mark Ruffalo
and Elijah Wood's erasure specializing nimrods, and Kirsten
Dunst as a happy go-lucky receptionist with more going on
than meets her spotless mind.
But we have to come back to Kaufman. Based off an interesting
if not obscure idea named after an interesting if not obscure
line from an Alexander Pope poem, "Eternal Sunshine"
raises an issue that stays with you like Joel's stubborn
memories of Clementine: Are all memories worth saving? Philosopher
John Locke claimed that we are all born into this world
with a tabula rasa - a blank slate - of memories and experiences
waiting to be filled up, a slate which forms who we are.
If we selectively try to erase that slate, does that change
who we are? And can we even erase the bad memories entirely
without affecting the good? Can we even know good without
bad? In a very entertaining way, "Sunshine" raises
these philosophical questions and more.
This movie is also the ultimate "be careful what you
wish for" scenario. Sure, we've all had bad experiences
and relationships. It's amazing what you remember from a
relationship - the silly games, inside jokes, and secret,
meaningful locales. Even at its worst, those memories -
good and bad - are worth saving. This movie reminds us that,
as much as you try, you can never wipe someone completely
from your memory. And even if you could, you're still no
better off than if you had left your tabula alone. When
it comes to life and love, nature, if not our own very selves,
will always find a way.
Rare is the movie that makes you think seriously about such
matters while engaging you along the way. Rarer still is
that person who can erase this subtly powerful movie from
his memory. And the next time an ex says "I wish I
never met you!" know, with a smile, that this is a
wish that is impossible to fulfill.
An urban legend/instant classic.
what you read? Agree/disagree with The Reel Deal? Think
he's talkin' out his...HUSH YO' MOUF! (I'm only talkin'
about The Reel Deal!) Email him at ReelReviewz@aol.com!
Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and
NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com,
and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com