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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/19/2004

Charlie Kaufman is possibly the most original screenwriter in America, but his movies can be frustrating!  It takes awhile to understand what is going on in them, but once you do, the payoff of that realization is worth it.  His latest work of frustration is called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it isn’t just the title that is weird about it.


Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is an illustrator who is on his way to a beach in Montauk, on Long Island.  Along the way, he meets a blue-haired girl named Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), who seems to creep him out and attract him at the same time.  He spends the evening with her, and he can’t get her out of his head.  This appears to be the beginning of their relationship.  Suddenly, the movie fast-forwards to what appears to be the end of their relationship.  Joel accidentally gets a notice from a company called Lacuna Inc. informing him that all memories of Joel have been successfully erased from Clem’s mind.  Confused, he goes to Lacuna to find out what it means.  He meets Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who tells him that Clem had a procedure done that erases memories, and she chose to have all memories of their relationship erased from her brain.  Joel wasn’t supposed to get the notice, since he was the subject of the erasing.  He is so hurt by what Clem has done that he demands that Mierzwiak perform the same procedure on him.  Mierzwiak agrees to do it, and it is scheduled for that evening.  Mierzwiak sends his technicians, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), to Joel’s place do the job, which consists of putting a weird helmet on Joel and using a computer to travel through his brainwaves, erasing selected memories along the way.  Patrick is sort of an awkward fellow, and his only way of picking up women is to use the knowledge of their memories to seduce them.  He does this in the case of Clem, and she calls him away that evening for some reason.  Stan doesn’t mind, since he figures that he is able to handle the job alone.  Also, it gives him a chance to fool around with Lacuna’s secretary, Mary (Kirsten Dunst.)  The problem comes when Joel starts remembering the good times with Clem as the bad memories are purged, like when he supposedly really first met her on a beach that he went to with his friends Rob (David Cross) and Carrie (Jane Adams.)  He decides that he wants to stop the procedure, but he can’t do it while asleep.  He comes up with the idea to save the remaining memories of Clem in other areas of his brain that Lacuna did not intend to go.  Stan’s computer notices this strategy and he has to call in Mierzwiak to fix the problem.  Joel must hide his memories from Lacuna long enough to wake up in the morning and cancel the procedure, and then possibly figure out a way to get Clem back.


Michel Gondry, a music video director whose theatrical debut was with Kaufman’s Human Nature, directed this movie.  I thought Nature was just okay, but this one is much better.  I liked the visual style that he gave to the dream sequences in Joel’s mind.  You see his mind subtly and not-so subtly being erased while he is hanging out with the memories of Clem.  One scene took place in his memory of him visiting her at Barnes & Noble, where she worked.  As they are talking, books start erasing themselves all around them.


I’m used to seeing Winslet in quirky indie flicks, but Carrey is rather new to it.  Sure, he did the unusual The Truman Show and Man on the Moon (and to some extent, The Cable Guy), but this is a movie that takes its quirks seriously.  It is the first time I’ve seen a weird Carrey movie where he was the least weird person in it.


The only thing that drove me nuts was the editing.  I realize that it was done in the way it was to throw the audience off-track, but sometimes confusing is just confusing for confusing-sake.

If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had been released at the end of last year (that had been the original plan), it would have been an Oscar contender.  It definitely would have netted Carrey his sixth Golden Globe nomination and possibly his first Oscar nod.  I’ll keep it in mind around awards season, but I don’t hold out much hope.  If you go to see this one, give it a little time, because it takes awhile to understand what’s going on, due to the structure of the story and the editing.  After Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind though, Kaufman is one screenwriter I can always count on to deliver a script that is like no other.


Get the soundtrack featuring songs by the Electric Light Orchestra, The Polyphonic Spree, Beck, a score by Jon Brion, and more:

Get a collection of poems containing “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope, the poem that inspired the movie:

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