YOU CAN ERASE SOMEONE FROM YOUR MIND. GETTING THEM OUT OF YOUR HEART IS ANOTHER STORY.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman must have been pretty happy with his work after the success of Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation. (2002). His friend Pierre Bismuth, a performance artist, had also given him an idea for another screenplay that would play around with conventions. The two friends and director Michel Gondry (who had turned a previous script by Kaufman into the film Human Nature (2001)) worked on the idea together. Gondry’s adaptation of the screenplay became his breakthrough, a confusing but vivid and entertaining fantasy.
Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) once had a fling. They’re quite different from one another; Joel is a discreet guy who doesn’t like parties but Clementine is spontaneous and impatient (the color of her hair is something she feels a need to change on a regular basis). After one of their fights, Clementine does an impulsive thing. She goes to a company called Lacuna that offers the possibility of erasing memories and has Joel erased from her mind. Lacuna has an obligation to inform those who have been erased from other people’s memories; when they tell Joel, he’s hurt and decides to do the same thing.
As the procedure begins at Lacuna, Joel has second thoughts. Unable to stop the process, he actively does his best inside his mind (together with Clementine) to sabotage Lacuna’s work and save the memories. Meanwhile, the people performing the procedure learn a few lessons themselves about the consequences of their technology.
Told in nonlinear fashion
The title was borrowed from an Alexander Pope poem about a tragic love affair and one purpose of the film is to show how false that eternal sunshine is. We need our memories, both good and bad, because they are what shape us as human beings. That is what Joel and Clementine discover, but also that Lacuna’s procedure is pointless; the lead characters live in the same city and are bound to bump into each other… and fall in love again. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion and it is up to the viewers to piece everything together; it kind of works because the experience is close to the confusing feelings Joel experiences when he enters his memories of Clementine and tries to save them.
It’s all very clever and pretty engaging, including the subplot where the Lacuna assistant Mary (Kirsten Dunst) discovers the embarrassing downside to erasing memories. The technical aspects are all excellent; cinematographer Ellen Kuras delivers striking images inside Joel’s head. Carrey (who also appeared in the somewhat similar The Truman Show (1998)) plays against type as a button-down guy; he’s very good and so is Winslet. This is a couple you want to see overcome differences, but at the same time you realize that they may not be destined for each other at all.
What prevents me from giving the film a higher rating is that this is one of those intelligent, original pieces of art that I admire but don’t really love. The filmmakers seem a little too busy with all the cool ideas and give us little time to actually fall in love with the central couple and their plight. Still, you can feel the emotions trying to overcome the film’s obstacles.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004-U.S. 108 min. Color. Produced by Anthony Bregman, Steve Golin. Directed by Michel Gondry. Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman. Cinematography: Ellen Kuras. Editing: Valdis Oskarsdottir. Cast: Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson.
Trivia: Nicolas Cage was allegedly considered for the part of Joel.
Oscar: Best Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay, Editing.
Last word: “[Gondry and I] pitched this idea several years before Chris Nolan came out with [‘Memento’]. I was delayed writing it because I had to write the movie that became ‘Adaptation’ first. And then I was producing ‘Human Nature’, which Michel was directing. Plus it was very hard to write for me. There was a moment when suddenly people started talking about this movie ‘Memento’ when I totally freaked out. I thought ‘Oh I can’t do this anymore’, and I called Michel and said ‘I am not doing it’, then we called Steve Golin and said ‘we’re not doing it’. Steve Golin was very angry and said ‘You are doing it!’ So we did it. I wasn’t influenced by ‘Memento’ except in that way. I have never seen ‘Total Recall’ but I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick stories and books, and I don’t think that was a direct influence on this, but I certainly like his work.” (Kaufman, DVDTalk)