Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Sad, Sweet and Sort of Like Life

gen-x-review-eternal_sunshine_of_a_spotless_mind.jpgLove is an accident waiting to happen – A once-in-a-lifetime collision so mad it makes everything else seem sane, so dangerous that no one can survive it intact.

Walking alone on a snowy beach, Joel (Jim Carrey, Bruce Almighty) wonders how he will ever meet someone when he is unable to even make eye contact with the only other person in sight, a young woman in a bright orange sweatshirt. Here certainly is a kindred spirit, another lost romantic alone in the world, but Joel does everything in his control to control the situation, lost in his own inner dialog.

When Clementine (Kate Winslet) approaches him at the train stop, Joel shyly looks away or sketches in his notepad. But Clementine is pushy, complex and difficult, inviting intimacy while punishing him for wanting to be close. He tries to pull away from this stranger, but is paradoxically drawn to her. Joel knows that being alone might be difficult, but being in love is devastating.

He should know, since this isn’t the first time he’s met Clementine, or the first time he’s fallen in love with her.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the sort of film that will return to haunt you when you’re passing coffee across the breakfast table to your partner or catch a stranger’s glance at the mall. It’s the sort of movie that reminds you what it’s like to be in love, how precious our memories are, and how inconceivable it is to imagine a world with or without love.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who has given us psychological mind games like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, had finally created a film as emotionally satisfying as it is intellectually challenging. Essentially the story of a difficult affair, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind feels like a love story written by Philip K. Dick or a kinder, gentler Vanilla Sky.

When Joel and Clementine’s relationship goes sour, they both wish they’d never met. Joel discovers that Clementine has had a procedure to erase her memories of him on the spur of the moment and decides to do the same, but he has second thoughts after the operation begins when he realizes how vital those memories are to him.

Most of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes place inside of Joel’s mind as he fights to keep hold of his memories of Clementine. Kaufman is familiar with the dark corners of the human mind, and plays with Freudian concepts of human development in the film just as he has done in the past, but his Eternal Sunshine has a big heart where his earlier films have seemed overly ironic and cerebral.

The procedure is a sort of designer brain damage, the work of a science that does not really understand what’s precious in life. When we erase our memories or one another, we ruin the better part of ourselves. As Joel tries to hide Clementine deeper and deeper in his unconscious he discovers how precious she is to him, how much their memories together make up who he believes himself to be.

Looking back over their relationship, trying to save just one bit of his memory of Clementine, Joel sees their love as a sort of catastrophe that mustn’t be avoided.

Carrey earns our respect in this role and Winslet is volatile, vulnerable and dangerous at the same time without falling into the familiar pattern of the damaged heroine. Director  Michel Gondry fuses Kaufman’s irony with a sort of tender remorsefulness, making even the ordinary seem somehow sad and beautiful.

The movie is deeply satisfying, poignant and intelligent: A striking story of difficult people doing difficult things to one another in the name of love. It’s sad and sweet sort of like life.


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