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;
A very short extract from ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ by Alexander Pope, in large part the inspiration for tonight’s feature - and why not? Hollywood has drawn inspiration from lesser sources in the past, and yet Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is as far from Hollywood as ice is from steam; ostensibly the same, but materially different.
The film tells the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), two lovers breaking up from a long term relationship, each harbouring deep feelings but resenting the hurt. Clementine makes use of a breakthrough medical procedure which allows the removal of memories, thus purging herself of the hurt, and when Joel hears about this, he undergoes the same radical treatment somewhat out of spite. However, during the erasing he realises how much he will miss her and, in fact, how mush he still loves her and so tries his utmost to hang on to the memories. It is during these memories that we see the blossoming, living and eventual destruction of their relationship – Joel is essentially talking to himself or his remembered aspect of Clem as they try in vain to circumvent the eradication by hiding in deeper and deeper recesses of his mind. It is often a confusing labyrinth, much like dreams, as we bounce between timelines, all the while getting darker and darker as the memories fade. Outside in the real world the technicians carrying out the procedure have their own problems, not only with Joel’s determination to hold onto his memories, but with their own relationships, which, at times are in as much of a spin as those in Joel’s memories. Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst) use Joel’s apartment for a party, but Mary seems strongly drawn to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the inventor of the procedure, called in when Joel’s determination nearly derails the treatment. Patrick (Elijah Wood), the second technician, is using Joel’s knowledge to woo Clem, which has a strange effect on her. But a ‘chance’ meeting between the two ex-lovers on a train might mean eternal happiness or destiny, and leaves the question of ‘meant to be’ very open ended indeed.
This film marked the second collaboration between Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry and with it showed they are a pair to be reckoned with. Kaufman’s wonderful script calls for three quarters of the film to play in Joel’s head; it’s his memories we’re seeing erased and Gondry captures that dream like quality with absolute precision. Kaufman’s script also asks some thought provoking questions and like any good argument leave the opinions open to viewer interpretation. Coupled to this is some quite outstanding acting from the principle cast.
Carrey manages to plumb the depth of pathos and despair removing all trace of that gangly face-pulling monstrosity that he tends to inhabit in most of his films; replacing it with pure emotion, be it desperation at holding onto his memories, anger at some of the antics in his and Clem’s relationship, fun at the good times, or, best of all, complete emptiness the morning after the procedure. This is helped ably by the cinematography and Ellen Kuras’ work which captures the cold emptiness associated with memory loss, but equally captures the lush fullness of a relationship in full flow. Kate Winslet, once again, gives a wonderful performance. Starting out as a woman in a blossoming relationship, with all the joy that comes with it, then, in Joel’s mind, the behaviour changes to someone trapped and then, like Joel, is the empty shell once her memories are removed battling her own demons and the unwanted advances of Stan who seems to know all her most intimate secrets. And the relationship between these two is so realistic, mainly developed by improvisation from the rehearsal period where the two actors shared real life experiences. This amount of freedom is credited with enhancing the actor’s performances to such a degree that, at the time, Winslet regarded this as her best performance in a feature film. Special mention to Kirsten Dunst whose performance of a doped up, lust fuelled girl quickly changes tact to a mournful and vengeful woman whose realisation of past events leads to the ultimate conclusion of the film.
With such lively and memorably performances (who’d have thought Carey could be so deep), a profound and rewarding script that is wonderfully and beautifully shot, you have a film rightly deserving of its numerous awards and richly deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. Its non-linear time line does demand a deal of attention from the viewer, but it is a very rewarding experience and much like the very best films, never spoon feeds you, allowing you to make up your own minds about all the questions asked. With such a multilayered film rewatchability is inevitable and, indeed, invited as each time there are new things to see, new emotions to feel and a stronger grasp of the concepts contained within. Being comic, tragic, heartfelt and deeply moving Eternal Sunshine is all this and more. So don’t forget it.
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