Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

There’s a science fiction writer named Theodore Sturgeon, whom I admire very much. Mostly because, every time I read something of his, I come away thinking, “Wow, I have never seen that before.” He’s startlingly original in his plots. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is the same way. Nobody ever told him that there are only twenty seven basic plots (or whatever the number is) or if they did he didn’t believe it.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind concerns a couple, or rather an ex couple who’ve had a bad break up. Clementine, played by Kate Winslet has her memory of the relationship erased by a new process. Joel, played by Jim Carrey, when he finds out about it, is determined to do the same. But once he begins the process, he discovers that his time with Clementine wasn’t all bad, in fact many of those memories are ones that he cherishes. So, much of the film takes place inside Joel’s head as he tries to stop the process. It makes for some surrealistic scenes.

Carrey continues to distance himself from the broad comic performances of his early days. Joel is an introverted, deeply hurt individual, as we find out in the scenes from his childhood. He hooks up with Clementine because she is the aggressive one. Winslet’s Clementine is, by her own admission, high maintenance. She’s deeply insecure, thin skinned and reckless in her determination to experience everything she can. Winslet is a remarkable actress who pulls off this complex role brilliantly.

The chemistry between them isn’t quite there, but I think that’s on purpose. They are an ill-matched couple, and their relationship is never going to run on all cylinders. In fact it’s hard to imagine either of them ever being happy.

Which is the way relationships often are. I like this film’s weary acceptance of that. You wouldn’t expect such a theme from a movie. Unless, of course, it comes from Charlie Kaufman’s pen.


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February 2005
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