Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

5 stars


3rd September 2004

They say the average human only uses 5% of his brain. Charlie Kaufman is certainly not the average human, and if scientific boffins were to poke their bits and bobs into his frontal lobe, I think you'd find the results to be most startling. The creative genius behind Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Kaufman is the hottest screenwriter in the industry right now, his screenplays filled with inspiration and lashed with verve and vigour. His latest brain-melting high concept movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a sort of 'love story in reverse'. While it may not sound like your average Kaufman movie (his last, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, was about a hitman game show host), Eternal Sunshine is his most complete and most satisfying work to date.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is unhappy. He's close-mouthed, shy and completely lacking in confidence, desperately seeking an existence he's not even sure exists. He's the kind of man that could never start a relationship because he has trouble even establishing eye contact with the opposite sex. Just your typical Kaufman-esque leading man, then. Joel Barish is also unhappy because the one woman he did find happiness with, the feisty Clementine (Kate Winslet), is no longer with him. Not only that, but he learns that Clementine has undergone a radical new scientific procedure to erase him from her memories, meaning that the next time they meet, she has absolutely no recollection of him whatsoever. Understandably miffed, Joel decides to undergo the treatment himself, determined to remove Clementine from his very soul and end his suffering. Once the procedure begins and his memories begin to disappear in reverse, Joel starts to have second thoughts and as his relationship with Clementine regresses back to its blissful early stages, he clambers to store away his more precious moments in untapped sections of his unconscious.

[gallery]For a high concept movie, you need a high concept director, and if there's one thing Kaufman is good at, it's finding the right people to put his visions on screen. This time, he's once again hooked up with French music video director Michel Gondry. The pair have already worked with each other on Human Nature, a mostly unseen flop starring Rhys Ifans as a hair-covered half-monkey hybrid (three guesses why no one saw it) but where Human Nature failed, Eternal Sunshine succeeds. Gondry has exactly the right level of visual flair to do justice to Kaufman's high altitude stories - the scenes in which Joel's memories begin to erase themselves from his brain are handled in the most exquisite fashion, with people, objects and even entire buildings flitting in and out of his subconscious in a heartbeat. Where other directors might have poured on the effects too thick, Gondry never makes that mistake and lends the sequences an ethereal quality that's hard to put down in words. While Kaufman will undoubtedly get the plaudits for the movie, Gondry's contribution should not be overlooked (after all, the central premise came from him, Kaufman merely turned it into a story).

Neither, for that matter, should the acting talent. Carrey is on magnificent form here, proving he's just a capable actor as any leading man in Hollywood, showing an unbelievable amount of restraint for a man usually so full of energy. His Barish is initially so repressed, so stagnant and so utterly sick of himself, and yet when he meets Clementine, he's opened like a flower and the sunshine radiates out. Kate Winslet is on equally fine form, displaying a spunkiness and impulsiveness that makes it easy to see why someone like Joel would fall for her, but at the same time showing a vulnerability that makes her so human and so insecure you just want to hold her in your arms and cradle her. A lesser actress could have lost a complex character like this, but Winslet has again proved herself to be higher class (even the accent holds for the full movie). There are great turns from the supporting cast also; Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo as the bumbling Lacuna engineers, Kirsten Dunst as a damaged receptionist who's got a surprise of her own, and Tom Wilkinson as the engineer who makes the magic happen. However, the relationship between Carrey and Winslet is so touching and fragile, every second they're off screen you yearn for them to return.

Eternal Sunshine deserves to be heralded as a masterpiece. Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter who's at the top of his game and miles ahead of the competition, and you still get the feeling he's not yet firing on all cylinders. His predilection for working with innovative, talented directors has proved a smart move - Gondry's work here is so vital to the complexity of the movie, and mixes together seamlessly with an enchanting score from Jon Brion to bring Kaufman's words to life. The backwards narrative, the breathtaking effects, the purposely stunted, awkward dialogue between Joel and Clem - it's all wonderfully executed, heartbreakingly realistic and utterly charming in every facet, but more importantly, the emotion is never laid on too thick and it never resorts to mawkish sentiment.

Charlie Kaufman's brain may be functioning on a higher level than the rest of us, but I for one still wouldn't want to take a peek inside. If his next film is as stunningly ambitious and wonderfully captivating as Eternal Sunshine, I'd rather just wait for the cinematic release.

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