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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American romantic science fiction film about an estranged couple who have each other erased from their memories, scripted by Charlie Kaufman and directed by the French director, Michel Gondry. The film uses elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and nonlinear narration to explore the nature of memory and romantic love. It opened in North America on March 19, 2004, and grossed over US$70 million worldwide. Kaufman and Gondry worked on the story with Pierre Bismuth, a French performance artist. The film stars an ensemble cast starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, and David Cross. The title is taken from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope, the story of a tragic love affair, where forgetfulness became the heroine's only comfort: How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Carrey traditionally makes silly comedies for his loyal supporters and risky pictures for his critics. His career path to date has alternated every bombastic Bruce Almighty with a tragic The Truman Show, and whatever Carrey camp you subscribe to will help you determine whether or not Sunshine is worth your time.
An opinion on screenwriter Charlie Kaufman also helps. Kaufman's complicated credits include head-scratchingly gifted gems like Being John Malkovich and the flawed yet intriguing Adaptation. His latest is another trademark odyssey into the brain that makes an extended stop at the human heart, something we don't expect from this clinical and cynical scribe.
When couples split, they tend to focus on the negatives in their failing relationships. Typically a string of bad experiences led them to the break-up point, so those unpleasant memories remain fresh in the mind. Lacuna Inc. helps ease that pesky heartache. The Manhattan-based company specializes in a medical procedure that can erase specific memories from someone's brain. Miss your dead dog? Can't stand the thought of your ex-lover? Have any trace of those memories wiped clean.
He doesn't know it yet, but introverted Joel (Carrey) has been erased from the mind of his impulsive girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet). The couple has been on the rocks as of late, and Clem's tired of dealing with Joel's 'boring' ways. She just didn't let Joel in on her decision - he has to find out through mutual friends. Shocked by the notion, Joel reluctantly visits Lacuna head Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (a very vanilla yet God-like Tom Wilkinson) and signs himself up for the same operation.
After laying its rocky groundwork, Sunshine sets up shop in Joel's house-of-mirrors mind as two preoccupied lab technicians (Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood) erase his memories of Clementine. The operation simultaneously releases Sunshine from the confines of reality, encouraging Kaufman and director Michel Gondry (who previously worked with Kaufman on Adaptation and Human Nature) to be as creative as they wish without the burden of having to make excuses for wandering too far from the straight path. Kaufman cooks up a fascinating premise of mending broken hearts, but Gondry deserves extra credit for conjuring the right images to match the story's wickedly clever asides.
A logical plot progression adds an intriguing twist. The Lacuna techies work backwards on Joel, starting with his break-up and careening towards the day he first met Clem. Of course, Joel's memories of his lost love improve with each revelation, though we're never sure whether these are accurate interpretations of their early relationship or affectionate recreations Joel keeps in his head. Either way, the comatose Joel changes his mind (literally) mid-session and wants to hold on to his fondest Clementine memories - which means he has to somehow outrun the scientific process. Here Kaufman is given the opportunity to address fate, explaining that Joel's efforts are unnecessary, for he and Clem are destined to meet again. But he chooses not to make things that simple, leaving it up to his audience to noodle through these concepts on our own.
The highest compliment I can pay Sunshine is that it makes complete sense from start to finish - high praise indeed for an idea this convoluted. We patiently wait for Kaufman's complex combination of raw emotions and forensic science to collapse in on itself, yet it never does. Kaufman's script and Gondry's cast maintain an amazing sense of continuity, even as the brilliant story dips and slides into surrealistic mental realms. Ultimately though, its Carrey and Winslet's spot-on tender performances that help solidify Joel and Clementine's bond, even as we realize that despite their penchant for meeting up, they have little hope of ever staying together.
All cracked up and nowhere to go.