Monday, January 10, 2005

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by Michel Gondry
2004, rated R
5 stars

Screen writer Charlie Kaufman has a knack for creating extremely strange, mind-bending, completely genuine and unique story lines, which of course make for strange, mind-bending, and sometimes utterly confusing films. His first two major hits, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation, were equally bizarre and delightful. Being John Malkovich centered around John Cusack’s discovery of a doorway leading into the mind of John Malkovich. Adaptation told of the fantastically eccentric difficulties of writing a superior screen play. Kaufman’s newest brain child, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is just as unusual as these other two. Kaufman’s gift for the obscure, coupled with director Michel Gondry’s artistic aptitude, together create a stunning montage of emotions and images that leave the viewer astounded.

Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) has created a company called Lacuna Inc. which has formed a procedure in which certain memories can be erased from a person’s mind. This procedure, Dr. Howard assures his patients, is essentially harmless, and painless, and completely wipes a person’s memory of unpleasant events, or of people whom they would rather forget. Such is the case with Joel Barish, played by a surprisingly—but excellently—serious Jim Carry, and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). Clementine is impulsive and spontaneous—her wild personality reflected in the ever-changing vivid colors of her hair. Joel, on the other hand, is her complete opposite—cautious, organized, and safe. After a relationship of almost two years, Clementine decides that she has had enough, and decides to get Joel erased. When Joel discovers what she has done, he takes his revenge on her by having the same procedure performed on himself. Halfway through, however, he realizes that some of his memories of Clementine are too precious to lose. What follows is a frantic race through his labyrinthine psyche.

As the semi-comatose Joel attempts to evade the erasure of his memories, a whole subset of intrigues occurs on the surface. A whole world of subplots, involving the quirky staff of Patrick (a wide-eyed Elijah Wood), Stan (an excellent Mark Ruffalo) and Mary (a glossy-eyed Kirsten Dunst) evolves, providing ever increasing layers of interest to the entire story. These subplots give contrast, parallel, and foils to the main plot, adding insight into the complex and baffling nature of memory and love.

While the storyline may seem a little obscure, it is truly the work of a genius. Kaufman has managed to reform and retell the classic love story in new and astonishing ways, addressing the issues of true love and fate along the way. His reach into the nature of human consciousness is also quite astonishing and revealing. While this story stands out as completely unique, it is the astounding beauty of the cinematography that propels the film to even greater heights. Gondry’s artistic eye blends perfectly with Kaufman’s story, using unique camera angles and techniques to give dimension and feeling to Kaufman’s exquisite obscurity. As each memory crumbles and fades from Joel’s conscious, so too does the scenery, in a very real and literal sense. Buildings, cars, shops, and even faces become distorted, diminished, and deteriorate, falling to pieces around the characters, right before our very eyes.

As the characters race from memory to memory, working backwards in their relationship through the boredom and animosity of a stale relationship to the passion and innocence of a new love, the audience is drawn deeper and deeper into their emotions and lives. For audiences who have seen and enjoyed Kaufman’s previous films, Eternal Sunshine is bound to please. For those not accustomed to his particular brand of controlled confusion, this film is an excellent introduction. The film is, however, as beautifully made as it is named, and only slightly more mystifying.

Eternal Sunshine official movie site

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