22 March 2004 | doctec
Of all Kaufman's screenplays that delve into the interior landscapes of its characters, Eternal Sunshine is the most fully formed and moving story of the bunch, a rumination on the possibilities and consequences inherent in making the process of removing unwanted memories from your consciousness as easy as going for a checkup. Kaufman here plays on our desire to forget the bad things that happen to us and what happens when we are given the power to forget those things permanently, and the conclusion he arrives at is that it ultimately creates as many - if not more - problems than it solves. At the very least, it can result in making the same mistakes again ("Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it"); at the worst, it eliminates the possibility of our ever reconciling and coming to terms with our life experiences, the way we relate to the people who help to shape our lives and whose lives we shape through ours.
The film explores these ideas in a novel and engaging way: by taking the audience inside the mind of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a man who, after breaking up with his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslett), discovers later that she has had her memory of him wiped clean from her mind. He finds out how she had this procedure done and, despondent not only about the breakup but even more so about her having completely erased him from her mind, searches out the doctor who performed the procedure and signs up to have the same procedure done to him, so that he may also have no memory of her. He is rendered unconscious for the procedure but his subconscious is still active. Once the procedure is initiated and he becomes aware that his memories of the woman he loved - and still loves - are vanishing from his brain, he starts having second thoughts and wants the procedure stopped. His challenge then becomes to figure out how to protect as much of his memory of her as he can, and to find a way stop the procedure despite the fact that he is in an unconscious state.
The manner in which he comes to realize and confront his dilemma is played out entirely within his interior landscape, a realm which (as anyone who remembers their dreams upon waking from sleep can attest) is a very surreal extension of our day-to-day experiences. Michel Gondry's visual style and direction works exceptionally well here in conveying the slippery, chaotic unpredictability of the worlds we construct from our memories and experiences; the clever interplay between this interior world and the goings-on of the outside world helps keep the viewer off-balance just enough to illuminate the fuzzy line of demarcation separating the two worlds and the peculiar manner in which they play off one another.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett do an exceptional job of bringing this abstract story concept to life with characters that are endearing, poignant, believable and utterly human. The supporting players are equally impressive: Tom Wilkinson as the mind-eraser doctor, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood as the technicians, Kiersten Dunst as the receptionist all have relationships to the main protagonists and to one another that come to light as the story unfolds and help to propel the plot; as friends of Joel and Clementine, David Cross and Jane Adams are hilarious as a couple who seem to be stuck in the same rut that compelled the protagonists to break up and have each other erased from their respective minds. Kaufman juggles all these relationships masterfully and in such a way as to ensure none of them are superfluous to the ideas he is trying to get across in this story.
While there are elements of the plot that seem to place this movie in the realm of science fiction, the focus of the movie stays on the interior states, emotions and relationships between the characters. As such, the film is more of a romantic comedy than anything - albeit unlike any other romantic comedy you're ever likely to see. I saw a late showing of this movie with my girlfriend the day it was released at a local multiplex and there were only 20 or so people in the theater, yet at the film's conclusion everyone broke out in a spontaneous round of applause. This gives an idea of how compelling this movie can be. If you give this film a chance to creep under your skin, you will likely find yourself reflexively thinking about your feelings toward the important people in your life, as well how you relate to those feelings, as well as your memories and how you relate to them. A thought provoking, moving and entertaining film - I can imagine that a working title of this film might have been "Warts And All."