Mercifully the month of February comes to an end this weekend. I say this not because of the romantic theme I’ve put everyone through on this feature over the last couple of weeks (I guess that’s bad enough), but because the weather around here has been downright crazy. Last night I put my car in a ditch. Or almost did. I live on one of the nastiest roads in Knoxville and last night I almost fell victim to its twists and turns. Thankfully I was helped out in a matter of minutes. So I’m really ready to move on to some better weather, and hopefully some sunshine.
Today’s food for thought: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Erasing painful memories since: March 19, 2004
The fact that Jim Carrey’s unforgettably restrained performance became overshadowed by universal themes of love and heartbreak isn’t a flaw within Michel Gondry’s psychosomatic journey. Quite the opposite in fact. You could say the same for Kate Winslet’s turn as Agent Orange-haired Clementine and to a lesser extent the collective of Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson. Tremendous performances had a hand in building this production into something memorable but the lasting impact was more a result of everything coalescing together. There are few films that made us feel the way Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made us feel.
Reflecting upon past relationships, whether they went out with a bang or quietly petered out wasn’t the film’s duty; it has always been our own. Eternal Sunshine isn’t fiction, it’s the brutal truth.
I don’t know if I’m a Joel Barish but there has got to be some part of me that has been, at one point or another. Just the same as the women I’ve dated have reflected some qualities of Clementine, regardless of whether this would ever be something we’d ever bring up. In the film, Joel’s recent ex has undergone an experimental procedure to rid any and all memories of him and once Joel learns of this he wants the very same treatment. In the real world we might jump the gun and label this hardcore bitterness, but screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, along with French director Michel Gondry, expressed it not only as a powerful plot device but an indicator that what once was a beautiful harmony between two individuals had finally reached a critical low point, a proper divorce devoid of the paperwork and legalese.
Dr. Mierzwiak (Wilkinson)’s office personified that which we like to dismiss as a useless emotion. In this dreamscape bitterness and regret functioned, and functioned extremely effectively. As Joel undergoes the procedure at home, with the help of sleazy assistants Stan (Ruffalo) and Patrick (Wood) a switch is flipped somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind that tells him this might be a mistake. He soon begins fighting the process every step of the way in an effort to keep Clementine in his life in any capacity. Anyone who has denied they have done something similar is either a rare exception or is lying to themselves, though understandably (and hopefully) there were less wires and computers involved.
The device is ingenious, but I too would be lying if I said that’s the only thing that propelled Eternal Sunshine into the realm of the classic romantic-comedy (if ever there were such a thing). Describing it like that is like describing one’s relationship as a classic, actually. It’s just awkward and doesn’t feel quite right. Performances and chemistry, yeah they were all in attendance and in great abundance — who knew Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey had the potential together to make Leo jealous? — but let’s dive below the surface. It was the handiwork of those behind the cameras, intertwining the real with the psychological world; juxtaposing Joel’s emotional hangover against evidence explaining it. This was a beautiful relationship insofar as it was properly if not painfully documented. The first encounter on the train to Montauk. The house on the beach, Joel and Clementine sitting on its steps. The pair sprawling out on a frozen lake.
Gondry’s film was as much a visual treat as it was a maze through the mind and heart. Innovative cinematography and set design was largely responsible for relaying an entire spectrum of emotion. I’d also like to back up a bit and not totally neglect Jim Carrey here. My brief address of him earlier isn’t indicative of how I feel about him as Joel Barish. He’d been good before in films I have yet to see (I won’t mention those because, you know . . . embarrassment) but he set a new standard in this one, putting such a distance between his Ace Ventura personality and a character that one might reasonable assert as how he might have been growing up in a desperately impoverished Canadian household, maybe sans the disdain for love and Hallmark holidays. The argument purporting Carrey’s inability to emote was officially rendered invalid with Eternal Sunshine.
Recommendation: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a unique work of cinematic art. For those into that sort of thing, particularly when it comes to diving into the murky waters of discussing relationship problems — how they begin and how they are resolved — I can not think of too many better than this one. It’s at times pretty heavy but manages to uphold a quirky comedic tone that never allows drama to devolve into melodrama. Performances are universally great and for those looking for a more three-dimensional Jim Carrey may I suggest you give this one a look.
Running Time: 108 mins.
TBTrivia: The voice whispering the above quotation is actually a combination of Kate Winslet’s voice echoing itself, and the voice of an editor working at Focus Features. Apparently, the editor was asked to do a quick voice-over, before Winslet arrived, and it was kept in the final cut.
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