ETERNAL sunshine OF the SPOTLESS mind

Starring

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are a couple who've forgotten their past in Charlie Kaufman's latest.
thanks for the memories

Over the past five years, the cool-nerd screenwriter Charile Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has proved himself an auteur as distinctive as any director in Hollywood. Not always in control of his talent, but dependably original, Kaufman has dreamed up his own movie genre-he creates philosophicaal parables in the form of slapstick thrillers-and inspired stars lke Cameron Diaz and Nicolas Cage to take bold creative risks. His new film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, draws its title from a beautiful long poem written nearly three centuries ago by Alexander Pope. The poet, imagining the lament of the medieval heroine Elosia, cruelly seperated from her beloved Abelard, explored the human mind's capacity to keep reliving a love affair, cherishing each repeated memory long after the real romance has died. The mood of the poem, "Eloisa and Abelard," is sad yet defiant. Kaufman, transforming the central couple from paragons of legend to contemporary misfits, sweetly played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, updates that tension, spicing it with nervous humor and a pinch of blithely implausible science fiction.
Flipping his usual extrovert persona inside out, Carrey plays a shy, regular-guy New Yorker named Joel Barish. When first we meet him, Joel is having an inexplicably weird day. In a nasal and befuddled-sounding voiceover, he tells us that he woke up wearing strange pajamas. He heads to the commuter station for his daily trek to work. But without knowing why, he feels compelled to jump instead on the train bound for Montauk, the desolutely picturesque tip of Long Ismand. This is in the dead of winter, mind you. Joel walks aimlessly on the beach. he notices a young woman (Kate Winslet) trudging along behind him. When he boards teh return train home, so does she, and they get to talking. Her name is Clementine, and her face is stunningly beautiful. But is she crazy? She's wearing a loud orange sweatshirt, like some kind of traffic emergency. Her hair is dyed blue. And when she leans in to tap Joel affectionately on the shoulder, she delivers what looks like a boxer's punch. (It's a great moment and reveals Winslet as a born comedienne).
Eternal Sunshineis directed by Michel Gondry, a Frenchman who previously collaborated with Kaufman on Human Nature. That exhaustingly frenetic film was the least successful of Kaufman's efforts so far (the two slam dunks were directed by Spike Jonze). But Gondry does better here. Indeed, the extended opening act is close to brilliant. Gradually, through flashbacks, we start to understand why this encounter between strangers feels charged with such hostility and yearning. It seems that Joel and Clementine were once in love. But after months of fighting and fraying each other's nerves, Clementine impulsively enlisted the services of a sinister inventor (Tom Wilkinson), whose company, Lacuns, Inc. erased Joel from her memory. When a distraught Joel signs up to have his Clementine memories erased, the Lacuna technician (Mark Ruffalo) who pays him a house call gets distracted by his luscious co-worker (Kristen Dunst) and botches the job.
Despite sharp work from Ruffalo and Dunst, the film bogs down considerably in the middle. Perhaps it's because they're less characters than plot devices-an excuse for Joel's memory bank go haywire while he's stuck in the Lacuna machine. In his mind, he and Clementine sense that someone is trying to destroy their love, and in a heroic effort to save it they go on the lam. A string of gags follows as they hide out in Joel's childhood, encountering a mom dressed in great sixties fashion, and, hilariously, a tiny four-year-old bully who with one quick flip of his arm can bring tall, gangly Carrey to his knees.
It's quintessential Kaufman, wildly fresh yet not quite convincing, more theoretical than flesh and blood. What a relief when the film returns to the Joel and Clementine it began with-not the abstractions but the human beings with problems to solve. The wholly unexpected chemistry between Carrey and Winslet warms up the proceedings, and Kaufman's last plot gambit makes for a payoff that works. No longer just and espert on insecure loners, he's started to learn the language of intimacy.
Vouge March 2004

Memorial Daze


You must remember this: the twisty, romantic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be the first movie I've seen that bends your brain and breaks your heart at the same time. The screenplay, by Charlie Kaufman, keeps whirling the audience into new and unexpected dimensions, yet you never question where you are, because there's an uncanny, seductive logic to every twist. Kaufman doesn't just think outside the box -- he makes you think that the box is scarcely worth saving. Early on, Joel (Jim Carrey), shy and gangly, with a shock of hair that covers his forehead, has a mysterious, itchy compulsion to ditch the New York commuter platform where he's on his way to work. He squeezes his way onto a train that takes him to the east end of Long Island, and though the whim makes no sense, either to him or to the audience, the moment that he spies the sexy, blue-haired Clementine (Kate Winslet), a neurotically intense motormouth flirt who chats him up on the train, it feels like destiny.

So does everything else in the movie. Eternal Sunshine begins, in effect, at the bitter end of Joel and Clementine's relationship, when he discovers that she has had her memories of him entirely erased. Devastated, Joel pays a visit to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the dowdy mad scientist of memory elimination, who occupies what looks like a modest dentist's office. Once there, Joel decides to undergo the procedure himself. As he lies, first in the office, then in his bed, in a trancelike sleep, his head strapped into a giant silver cap that is hooked to blinking machines run by Mierzwiak's tech-dweeb assistants (Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood), his memories don't die hard. They die softly, sadly. They're like peak moments of lost love unspooling in the revival theater of his mind.

After Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, we expect teeming, manic-to-the-max invention from Charlie Kaufman, only this time he's not just playing, he's searching. He has become the most exciting screenwriter in America by doing something that most writers only dream of: He gets the audience addicted to the freedom and craziness of his mind. Eternal Sunshine gives off a dizzy romantic charge, as Kaufman and the director, Michel Gondry (the two collaborated in 2001 on the top-heavy trifle Human Nature), lead the audience on a puckish, ingenious science-fiction ride that is really a journey into the beauty -- and fragility -- of connection.

Each of Joel's memories unfolds before us at the moment it's being wiped out. In something like reverse order, we watch the story of his relationship with Clementine: how it flowered and degenerated between one Valentine's Day and the next. The potato dolls in Clementine's apartment; the night she and Joel lay on the frozen Charles River; the day he dodged his fears of fatherhood by telling her she wasn't stable enough to raise a child; Clementine's psychedelic series of changing hair dyes; the fights and cuddles -- as Joel remembers everything, he enters into, and interacts with, those same memories, pleading with them to change in some way. But they can't.

Eternal Sunshine has a lilting psychological fancy, yet it works because it's also rough and real and intimate and alive, with Gondry using a handheld camera to stage backward leaps in time that feel, in execution if not tone, highly influenced by Memento. Kaufman, never shy about excess, keeps multiplying the structural complications. A subplot with Kirsten Dunst as another Mierzwiak assistant is nifty and clever; the one with Elijah Wood's Patrick exploiting the memory procedure for his own gain is a tad underdeveloped. Yet the cumulative impact leaves the audience happily and profoundly buzzed.

Carrey has often played timid, stammering nerds, but this is the first time he has eradicated any hint of stylization. He makes Joel a deeply vulnerable ordinary man, too ''nice'' for his own good, haunted by dreams of romance he's scarcely bold enough to voice to himself. We can see why he's attracted to Clementine -- she's the sort of highly eroticized, let's-try-anything girl who's a geek's idea of romantic danger -- and, more mysteriously, why she digs him: The way Winslet plays the role, her volatility masks a deeply fractured soul. These two couldn't be more different, yet deep down they're matching wrecks.

The idea of blanking out every last thought of a failed romance, even if it means losing pleasure to get rid of pain, has a blithe topical spookiness; it's like an Orwellian satire of a world moderated -- neutered -- by psychiatric drugs. Kaufman and Gondry, though, aren't out to score didactic points but to dramatize how even our closest relationships are, in effect, stories that unfold in the ways we tell them to ourselves. The ''flaws'' of Joel and Clementine's edgy bond create the very electricity that holds it together. Joel, embracing his memories, comes to appreciate the fragile glory of each and every moment simply for being that moment. Watching ''Eternal Sunshine,'' you don't just watch a love story -- you fall in love with what love really is.A


Lasy Updated: December 24, 2007


Kate Winslet
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