|Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind|
Is there any value to hanging onto painful memories of a love lost? Is a romance that ended in disaster even worth remembering? Writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) probes this question in his latest sci-fi back-slash comedy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Jim Carrey plays Joel Barrish, a man whose drab appearance and bleak surroundings are brought out especially sharply one morning shortly before Valentine’s Day by the flowers and Hallmarks around him. Though normally not an impulsive person, he tells us in a sad, detracted voiceover, he takes a sick-day and hops on a train headed to the beach. There, with strange feelings of déjà-vu from the sites around him, he encounters Clementine (Kate Winslett), a colorfully dressed girl who sports blue hair. More precisely, her hair is dyed “blueruin,” a color especially relevant to her situation for reasons of which she is ironically unaware. The two are ex-lovers whose relationship recently escalated to a peak of frustrations. They broke things off and, before the possibility of making amends, both had their memories of each other erased.
Director Michel Gondry (Human Nature) masterfully presents the second act of this film in a time-reversed dream sequence. Joel is visited during the night by employees of Lacuna, Inc., to execute the final stage of the memory erasure procedure, in which his head is placed in the center of a pasta-strainer-looking-50’s sci-fi brain device. Two sleazy agents, played by Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo, use a computer to travel a map of Joel’s neural highways, creating road blocks and wiping out whole portions of experiences along the way.
Meanwhile, a drama develops between Mary (Kirsten Dunst), a fragile and emotional desk clerk of the company, and the company’s owner Dr. Mierzwiak. Mary is drunk and high for much of the film, a mind state she emulates disturbingly well. Maybe Dunst’s role as a character named Mary Jane in the Spider-man films went to her head. To intensify the situation between Joel and Clementine, Elijah Wood’s character Patrick vies for the love of Clementine by trying to reconstruct what she had with Joel. Without his cute hobbit prosthetics, Wood can play a complete sleaze-bag surprisingly effectively.
The dream sequences are gripping and provocative. Joel realizes that several of his happiest times were spent with Clementine, so the routine mind-erasing quickly turns into a battle of mind vs. machine to retain just a few fragments of his memories, fading and fleeing. Joel re-experiences every one of his memories of Clementine, and they both attempt to save them as the world around them slowly evaporates. The audience learns the history of their tumultuous romance, whose progression is represented in the transformations of Clementine’s hair from neutral colors to increasingly more chaotic and turbulent colors. Though the details of his memories are often indistinct to begin with, his memories are gradually stripped of identity until Clementine disappears from them. Gondry takes great attention to detail to control the moods of his viewers, which result in a visually and sonorously dynamic film. Certain sounds are intensified, and quite a few motifs recur to emphasize character qualities.
Carrey plays his role well, but it’s hard to break from the type-cast that made him famous. His character has a goofiness that fits well with this role, but also that meshes well with the more serious aspects of Carrey’s performance. Clementine is the more outgoing character, so Carrey, used to taking the spotlight, must cede it to Winslett for this fare.
Maybe these two, who were once soul-mates, are better off simply as strangers. Erasing memories is shown not to be synonymous with erasing fate, as Clementine and Joel are naturally drawn toward one another, but does this imply that the relationship is destined to repeat the same cycle and end in blue ruin? It is obvious that erasing memories is no way to deal with loss, as they are an integral part to any normal life. What this movie strives for-and achieves-is an examination of what makes relationships, even failed ones, worthwhile. Even if your greatest love leaves you, you’ll always have your memories, good or bad.