Selective Memories: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 5:58pm

The ability to discriminate and dump memories from our mind is inviting. Who wouldn’t chance the opportunity to erase thoughts that (re)appear more often than we like, more often than we can bear?

In “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” we follow a relationship through all its phases. We follow Joel (Jim Carrey), a creative but withdrawn man who yearns for love, expecting it to raise his life beyond its current nothingness — yet he’s too reserved to take any chances. Be it coincidence or not, he finds love during a chance trip to Montauk where he meets the beautifully aggressive Clementine (Kate Winslet).
Clementine’s a firecracker — a risk-taking free spirit with a wide spectrum of hair colors to reflect her current mood(s). One moment she’s ‘Blue Ruin,’ the blue-haired wandering soul that bullies her way into Joel’s life; next she’s ‘Agent Orange,’ the tangerine temptress who’s already captured Joel’s heart.

We watch Joel and Clementine fall in and out of love, out of order, and witness their ever-changing behavior towards each other over time. Their final falling-out prompts Clementine to seek an alternative to ‘moving on:’ a strange medical procedure that will eliminate Joel from her memory.

Lacuna Inc., the company that deals in the elimination of malignant memories, is busy, busier than usual due to Valentine’s Day. We can assume that souls full of longing want to long no more, and the holiday’s reminder is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the nerve that snaps the synapse.

When Joel enters Lacuna’s cluttered offices, skeptical and intrigued about their services, he’s fully aware of his erasure from Clem’s memory; Lacuna’s architect, Dr. Howard (Tom Wilkinson) offers his sincere condolences and makes Joel’s case a priority. In a rash moment of vengeance, Joel decides to get the procedure himself, to dispose of his bitterness and obliterate Clementine from his brain.
But what if, mid-surgery, you realize it’s a mistake? Can your subconscious right the wrongdoing?

Masterfully directed by Michel Gondry, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” takes control of our left and right-brains, scrambles their recognition and projects them out of order. We see both relationships with ourselves and those who we love(d) with the kind of clarity only hindsight can offer.

The surreal, fractured storyline is owed to Charlie Kaufman, who is no stranger to cerebral dramadies; he also wrote “Being John Malkovich.” Sunshine’s script, like Kaufman himself, is full of self-involved character sketches; the finer details are left for Gondry, who’s imaginative spirt cannot contain itself.

As Joel and Clementine race down the rabbit-hole of Joel’s subconscious to escape deletion, a visual odyssey of the mind unfolds, internal worlds collapsing and mental blocks breaking free, gleefully disjointed. Here we see our protagonists’ (buried) personalities in outrageous scenes most directors would fear to attempt, especially without the help of digital effects. It’s a marvel of construction and editing.

“Eternal Sunshine” features one of the finest roles from Jim Carrey’s more serious phase. The typically hyperactive comedic actor is more restrained here than anytime beforehand (legend has it that Gondry would film scenes with Carrey without the actor being aware of it). And Winslet, always the enchanting dame of period pieces, turns in an exceptional performance, one she still considers a favorite.

Watching Joel and Clem is like watching our friends embroiled in the dramatics of love. If they make the choice to start over (again?), we hope they’ll stop hurling themselves into the same problems. We hope they’ll give up the jealousies, hang-ups and infatuations of their past, decayed and incapable of changing. We hope they’ll truly start anew, and spend the rest of their lives putting the pieces together, together.