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ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Michel Gondry
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2004

"This is it, Joel. It's going to be gone soon."

"I know."

"What do we do?"

"Enjoy it."

Film ****

Films can entertain us, but they can also ultimately challenge us as a viewer. No other recent film can illustrate both benefits more beautifully than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Leave it to the eccentric brilliance of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman to whip up another fantastically original story. Truth be told, despite his remarkable track record with Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I sincerely think that Eternal Sunshine is Kaufman's most superb piece of work yet.

I've seen the film twice now, and I've come to discover that a repeat viewing of a film like this is vital. The first viewing works as an experience, where you find yourself drawn into the wild and crazy ride the movie provides in the form of a frenetic trip inside a person's mind. When I saw the movie in its theatrical run, I remember feeling so taken by the experience that I neglected to acknowledge the elements I found in the second viewing.

What I discovered in the repeat viewing is that the film is a whole lot more than the outrageous premise at its core. As it turns out, Eternal Sunshine is remarkably written film about the power of emotions, particularly that of love, and how memory and certain emotions make us who we are in life, no matter how hard we try so hard to erase certain memories from our very minds.

The hero of the film is Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey), a lonely soul whose whole existence was changed the day he met Clementine (Kate Winslet). She displays signs of attraction, and before long, the two are inseparable. Things happen very quickly, and it isn't too long before Clementine confesses that she considers Joel to be too boring. Joel confesses back that she is simply too needy. The next time he sees her in public, Joel is shocked to learn that she acts like she's never seen him before.

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lotů"

The truth is, she really doesn't know who he is, as Joel soon discovers that following their breakup, she had Joel completely erased from her memory. This was done through a breakthrough firm named Lacuna. The head of the establishment, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), has helped perfected a way to erase troubling memories away from the mind.

So Joel, in an act of revenge, decides to undergo the procedure and have every bit of Clementine wiped away for good. From this point on we, along with Joel, experience past events slowly being wiped from existence, right down to the very moment Joel walks into the Lacuna offices to make an appointment.

Dr. Mierzwiak isn't alone in conducting the memory erasing. He has a short but reliable staff of assistants who supervise the process down to a tee. Technicians Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) oversee every single minute of Joel's condition right from Stan's apartment. There's also the receptionist, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), who's on hand for help but mostly because she's also Stan's girlfriend.

"The world forgetting, by the world forgot."

The trip inside Joel's mind is a trip to remember indeed! Not only does the story play it self backwards inside the character's mind, but it also reveals the details of Joel and Clementine's time together. While being able to see his requested memories erased right in front of him, Joel comes to realize that wiping Clementine away from his mind may not be the very thing he wanted.

At first, it seems like the perfect act of revenge. While witnessing the memory of their exact moment of breakup, Joel is happy to announce to Clementine that he is having her erased for good. Sooner down the road, Joel also discovers the beautiful moments he shared with her. The gentle individual moments that are always worth remembering. He has come to realize that a memory of anything resembling beauty is not worth destroying.

Before long, Joel attempts to prevent total eradication of Clementine by eluding the memory wipe process. By doing this, he pulls Clementine into hidden memories, even some very embarrassing ones, hoping to win over the erasing procedure. Joel's inner actions manage to baffle the very technicians handling the process, who've never seen a subject go so far off the map.

"Eternal sunshine of the spotless mindů"

The film has so many credits worth mentioning in its achieving, but first and foremost should be the work of director Michel Gondry. This is the first film of his I've seen, though he's made a few films prior, one of which was Human Nature, another collaboration with Charlie Kaufman. I already find Gondry to be a masterful visionary. The unexpected places and events that Kaufman's screenplay provides, as well as the illustration of Joel's fractured mind, are enlivened to full realization through Gondry's vision.

For Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine represents a clear illustration; he is an actor of uncompromising range. Though I praised his serious work in The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and The Majestic, I don't think many critics, along with the masses, were ready to take him seriously. With this film, I strongly feel that Carrey will finally get the kind of acceptance he set out to get when he first stayed clear of typecasting. The character of Joel is indeed his most complex and challenging performance yet.

The rest of the cast shines as well, most notably Kate Winslet, who in addition to being one of the most beautiful looking women in cinema, proves that she's capable of pulling off any type of role thrown her way. I've never seen her play such a wild and energetic character as Clementine, but I'd be lying if I said she doesn't pull off with flying colors. Speaking of colors, I think Ms. Winslet's beauty is illustrated even more in the scene/memory where her hair is fully red. The supporting work from Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson adds up to one of the best ensemble casts of the year.

"Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd."

As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, the list of terrific films is quite bigger than usual for me by now. One thing's for sure, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will indeed score a high place on my Ten Best list for the year. The film is a mind blowing achievement of technical wizardry and beautiful storytelling. Many Oscar nods should be considered.

Video ****

Universal's handling of this incredibly visionary piece is downright flawless in every aspect, so much to the point that you are certain to never FORGET it. The anamorphic picture is a pure treat for the visual senses, as all of the extraordinarily odd set pieces used in accompanying the trip inside Joel's mind is delivered in the most superb form imaginable. Image clarity is of pure consistence, and the many tones the film finds itself in (an equal share of bright and very dark) illuminate the screen beautifully.

Audio ***1/2

Eternal Sunshine is a film of both quiet moments and strong technical elements, and the 5.1 mix succeeds in defining the powers of both aspects of the form. On the one hand, a good portion of the film is dialogue oriented, and the spoken words are delivered terrifically clear. At the same time, Joel's troubling mind trip offers moments that give each of the channels very good use. Music playback is also a strong footnote in the sound performance, as demonstrated by Jon Brion's mellow score and a crucial song by Beck.

Features ***

Not a heavy load, but a more than good enough extras list, nonetheless. Included is a commentary track by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, a featurette on the making of the film, an engaging conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry reflecting the making-of process, several deleted scenes, a music video for the song "Light and Day" by The Polyphonic Spree, and even an infomercial for Lacuna.

Summary:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind represents one of the bolder and more challenging films to come out in quite some time. Both a dizzying ride of a movie and a movingly written piece on effect of love on the soul, this is one of the year truly best and original films.

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