How happy is the blameless Vestal’s lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
— Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard”
Everybody’s had that relationship that turns sour. Where the fights become more frequent, harsh words are shouted, false (or true) accusations are made, and finally it ends with one or both parties violently slamming the door and wishing that they could just forget their disastrous relationship.
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which wins the “Longest Title Without a Semicolon” award), Joel (Jim Carrey) is given the chance to forget his relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) thanks to a memory-erasing procedure developed by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). In the midst of the erasing, though, Joel changes his mind and tries to hide Clementine from the technicians in order to keep her.
This movie is a trip, but what else would you expect from writer Charlie Kaufman, who brought the world such movies as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation? It’s not quite in chronological order, which requires the viewer to pay attention or else risk losing what’s happening on screen. For paying this sort of attention, though, said viewer is rewarded with a film that is funny, sad, intelligent, and real. This is the antithesis of Nora Ephron romantic comedies. Missing are the conventional leads, the conventional story, and the conventional ending. Talk about a welcome breath of fresh air.
The film moves between the real world, where the technicians are erasing Joel’s memory, and inside Joel’s head as he tries to hang on to Clementine. Sometimes things speed up, sometimes they slow down, and sometimes you’re moving backward or forward in time. Visually the movie is great, especially the sequences on the beach at Montauk, or the way things fade and blur when Joel’s memory is erased. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re in a memory or in reality.
Jim Carrey has finally found the perfect role for segueing into drama from comedy. Joel is shy, cautious, neurotic, about as far from Ace or Lloyd as you can get, and Carrey nails him. Kate Winslet is also outstanding as the free-spirited, spontaneous, flighty Clementine. Both characters feel so real, like people you’d run into on the street or something. They aren’t high-powered ad execs or freelance writers or journalists and they don’t live in huge loft apartments. They’re just people.
Equally good are the supporting characters: Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo as the technicians performing the erasure, Kirsten Dunst as the secretary who worships Dr. Mierzwiak, and Tom Wilkinson as the aforementioned good doctor himself. These aren’t one-dimensional supporting characters. They each have a life and problems of their own.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a romantic movie for the anti-romantic. A quirky indie film with no robots, aliens, or oversized elephants. A Jim Carrey movie more in the vein of The Truman Show than Ace Ventura. And if it sounds like it could be for you, see it immediately while it’s still in Norman.