The world needs more imaginative people like Michel Gondry. Where are all the artistic savants like him in our generation? To be fair, I don’t know how many like him existed before him, so it’s hard to gauge where they all “went”. Not since the exuberance of the 60s and the hyper-colorful Russo-Finnish co-productions like Jack Frost and The Day the Earth Froze, where imagination was plentiful on the wings of fantasy and adventure, has a director brought such a palpable excitement to the screen. Gondry’s films, while not always very dense, still engross with an emotional connection to the characters and the material that are impossible to ignore. Today’s film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a contemplative, if not shallow, look at a modern, complicated romance that has some wildly imaginative aspects to it.
A man named Joel and a woman named Clementine meet one day on a cold winter morning. They click almost instantly and chat the day away. Even though they don’t at first seem very compatible, it seems insignificant compared to the fun they’re having with each other. Strangely, though, there is a scientific reason the two are attracted to one another; they used to be a couple, but they just don’t remember. In the film, a new procedure has come into popularity called Targeted Memory Erasure that people are using to erase painful memories from their lives. These two people were in a failing relationship and, in haste, decided that the thought of remembering one another was too much and went ahead with the procedure. Most of the film takes place in the man’s head during the procedure as his memories melt away. He is forced to relive a number of the good times and the bad times with Clementine as they slip away from him one by one. The more he looks at what he had with her, though, the more he begins to realize that perhaps he had made a mistake in asking to be rid of the memories. As he clings to his old life with her, the world they created in his consciousness begins to collapse, and Joel desperately searches for something that will perhaps stick with him as he loses one of the most important people in his life.
What a fascinating idea. An idea like this, in the wrong hands, could have ended disastrously, but in the capable hands of Gondry and wunderkind Charlie Kaufman, this film came out almost flawlessly. You are transported to a world of dreamlike memories falling away in the face of what looks more and more to be a terrible mistake. It’s as terrifying as it is tragic, and its inevitability bears down upon our hearts every second, even though we still secretly hope for a second chance between Joel and Clementine. The world inside Joel’s mind is equally impressive as a visual spectacle. The way the memories manifest themselves, be they half-remembered words and ideas, sketchy faces, childhood fears revisiting the adult manifestation of Joel, or endless loops of seemingly unimportant details all are lovingly rendered in a style that is both technically impressive and emotionally stirring.
This sumptuous feast for the mind is bolstered by breakout performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. While I never expected any less from the real deal actress Winslet, Carrey genuinely surprised me. As Joel, he made me feel so deeply for him that it shook me to my core as an ol’ softie. There is such a vulnerability there that I never saw before, would have never imagined before. He changed my opinion of him forever with this role, and for the first time I can look at Jim Carrey as a seriously talented actor with a range that can only be described as phenomenal. But let’s not forget that Kate deserves her due for being half of this depressing relationship. Clementine is a free-spirit who doesn’t like being told what to do, doesn’t like boundaries, and it hurts her when Joel seeks to reign her in and cull her with the rest of the herd. There are a number of scenes in which Kate showcases an emotional range that solidifies her as one of the greatest actresses of this decade, and even with badly-died blue hair I can take a woman like her seriously.
I’m keeping this one short for an essay later, but don’t let that keep you from watching it. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not only an amazing movie and a classy reference to Alexander Pope, but also a hypnotically powerful drama wrapped in the mysterious language of dreams. Michel Gondry creates visual masterpieces in this film destined to become a classic. The cast and crew is stellar, and while not everybody makes much of an impact as a character (almost nobody does) the leads carry their peculiar weight with dignity and poise that I appreciated. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I give Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 9 ol’ softies out of 10. A high recommendation!
Tomorrow I don’t know what I’ll watch, but it will definitely be something new! Until then!