Universal // 2004 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 21st, 2005
"Hour by hour
Day by day
Love leaks out and
-- The Residents
"I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken -- and I'd rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived." -- Margaret Mitchell
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. If that's the case, what does presence do? Does it make affection weaken and die? Does it drive the emotion out of the heart and put it someplace less painful? Or are all maxims merely null and void when it comes to deciphering the reasons for love? Who really understands it? Why does it feel so good, and hurt so deep?
If you could eradicate the lingering loss of a terrible breakup, would you? Would you kill the heartache? Could you do it? Better yet, would you want to? It's not like something as overwhelming as love is built in a day, no matter what the romantics say about being thunderstruck, gobsmacked, or enamored at first sight. No, such a strong, unstable emotion is assembled out of a series of smaller sentiments -- events and experiences stacked one on top of the other like an interpersonal house of cards. Familiarity becomes the glue, while shared beliefs and, sometimes, sexual dynamics create a concrete (if often cracked) foundation. Usually, once the falling out occurs and the disintegration is underway, the tower topples over effortlessly, as if the structure was only bound by the sheer will of the couple involved.
But don't be mistaken -- the basics are still there, the physical and ephemeral properties that brought the two together in the first place. They last and linger, like the smell of perfume on an old scribbled note, or that internal vision crafted out of whispers and sighs that you only sense when the rest of the world is silent. And no matter how hard you try, no matter what wives' tale you buy into, the soul-twisting humors remain. They are still there, berating and bothering you, acting as reminder and retort to any feelings of attachment, any attempt at closure. And they may never actually fade away. More people probably die from a broken heart than a diseased one, when you come to think of it.
So, would you pay to have the harms removed? If it were technologically possible, would you allow your fondest, most ferocious feelings to be drained from you, wiped away like a series of fawning formulas on a science lab chalkboard. Understand, they all have to go, as they are all intertwined, incestuous, and spiteful in spirit. Good only comes with the bad, and dislike only exists because there once was the possibility of compatibility. There is indeed a sense of everlasting light in a pristine psyche, a feeling of being free from all the traumas -- as well as all the treasures -- which make up experience. Would you sign up for a lover's lobotomy if there was one, knowing that in the end, the great maudlin story you once dwelled in would becomes as arid and lifeless as a desert, its infinite waves of nothingness reaching out toward the horizon?
Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski are about to find out. Once they were in love. Now they are not. They feel there is an advantage to being liberated from each other emotionally. But they are about to learn that there is a terrible price to pay to live in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
When Joel first met Clementine, there was an attraction, something immediate and magic. He was drained from a prior breakup. She was kind of lost, spreading her affections like political pamphlets among the public. Over time, their friendship grew into affection, and out of such predilection sparked the seeds of long-term love. Like all couples, they fought; they shared secrets and hid truths. Suddenly, the unbreakable bonds began to weaken, then slip, and then finally start to dissipate. The arguments became more heated, the exchanges more pointed, personal and painful.
Then, one day, Clementine was out of Joel's life -- instantaneously. There was no gradual decent into bitterness, no final confrontation filled with ultimatums or desperate pleas. While the signs of separation had been present all along, Clementine just seemed to make an immediate and irreversible decision against her man. Joel no longer exists to her, and this new abnormal reality drives him crazy. Finally, he learns the twisted truth. Clementine has had Joel "erased" from her memory, removed as if he never existed in the first place.
The Lacuna Clinic, run by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, makes it all possible. The procedure is painless, and quickly accomplished over a single night's sleep. Joel agrees to undergo the treatment as well. But while reliving the moments of his life with Clementine, he begins to have regrets. As a complicated machine maps out the memories he has of his one-time lady love, systematically identifying them and wiping them away, Joel discovers something about love and loss. Perhaps it is better to have had someone and miss her, pain and all, then to never have known her at all. Sounds like something Tennyson would say, right?
"Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop." -- Anonymous
"There is love of course. And then there's life, its enemy." -- Jean Anouilh
Everyone always forgets the steps. They remember the big events. They can pinpoint major moments when certain situations or circumstances played out; epiphanies like a first kiss...the initial and subsequent sexual congresses...the first fights and the precise time when like turned to love. Artfully aligned as colored tags on the atlas of the human heart, these incidents are easily organized and compartmentalized, put in their proper places without thought to patterns or importance. Beginning and end games are equally entrenched in the remembrance banks. How a couple came to meet, and how they ended up depressed and alone, are the fodder for fundamental individual myths, the trials of our immortal soul against the current of gods and karma ganging up to spite us. Whether we're falling in or out of love, we always savor and save the most striking pieces, the ones they write songs about, the parts that become the poems and the parables.
But we always forget the steps, those minor moments that really bind or unwind a relationship. It is foolish to think that love -- really deep, abiding emotion -- is all rockets and red glare, soft white pillows and smooth, calm oceans. Like the complicated beast that it is, love is made up of parts, both immense and minuscule, all playing their role in the creation of a creature capable of great passion and horrid tempers. And when Hollywood makes a romantic comedy, when the sages of sentiment sit at their typewriters and crank out the archetypes to fit the proper performance demographic, they forget the details. They look at the long term, legitimize the full-size picture, and play on the substance inherent in such grandiose statements to explain their emotions. But the smaller bits are the more interesting elements, the forgotten facets of any real relationship. They could be the casual comments, the troubled look, the reaction that comes in an automated manner, or the cute little quirk that disappears into the woodwork. All are viable in the raison d'être for real caring.
No matter how great a movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is -- and it is spectacular -- no matter how acute it is in its observations, or mesmerizing in its cinematic elements (acting, writing, direction, and so on), it should first and foremost be celebrated for remembering to include the steps. Few movies have been able to capture the incremental moments that lead to love -- or its polar opposite, non-love (hate is almost never the result of a failed relationship, as most people would never even know how to experience or express true spite). But director Michel Gondry, working from a screenplay by weirded-out wunderkind Charles Kaufman (Gondry and conceptual artist Pierre Bismuth had a hand in the story as well), has crafted a cinematic scrapbook with this masterpiece of a film, a look at how all the glimpses and snippets, leftovers and oddments, lead up to that artifact known as amore. Certainly, this is a movie with big ideas and even larger themes to discuss and dissect. But at its very core, beyond all the universal platitudes and stereotypical symbolism, lies a statement about love as a process of formation: two people, linked by invisible forces, working together to forge something lasting -- or separately to forget something lost.
To paraphrase the old Burt Bacharach / Hal David standard, everyone who has a heart will look at this movie and see themselves. Not necessarily in the characterizations or in their connections. But by illustrating the process of both love and non-love, by providing an inventive conceit to visualize such construction and destruction, the film makes us privy to one of the most astoundingly moving, bracingly original takes on the pains of personal relationships ever created. What makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind such a near-perfect piece of art is the way it finds the common in the specific. It is hard to imagine, in anyone's life, a person like Joel or a free spirit force of nature like Clementine. They represent aspects of existence that most people fail to ever explore -- from the almost excruciating introspection of Joel to the extroverted ennui of dame Dadaism herself, the confused and half-crazed Clem. Using the lovers as a tabula rasa of relationships, their pleasantries and pitfalls, Eternal Sunshine tries to teach us something salient and special about the whys and the hows of interpersonal interaction. And it does it by suggesting and showing, not beating us over the head with monologues about longing or speeches under the stars.
In the pantheon of such personal journeys, we have lots of loaded, amazing examples. Say Anything provided characters as opposites, the underachiever matched with the popular girl in a case of soulmates finally finding each other. Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset showed how communication and chance occasionally collide to form lasting, loving bonds. From the slightly syrupy An Affair to Remember to the certified classicism of Casablanca, the great romances seem stuck in the arena of the omnipresent, where everything is about the emotional tenets, the big bold braggadocio that we've come to associate with onscreen love -- devotion, faith, loyalty, tolerance. But in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we finally get a couple who are made up of their own individual elements, almost totally unaffected by the maxims that philosophers develop in their large, lonely ivory towers. Joel and Clementine have a love based in human, not heroic, ideals -- the kind of emotion that progresses and digresses naturally, not cosmically. As a result, anyone who has ever loved, lost, or found a way over the horrible humps that occur in a relationship can immediately identify and root for this flawed, fascinating couple.
It is to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's credit that he manages the miraculous when creating his mismatched lovers. Of course, director Gondry and stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have a lot to add to the mix. But it is Kaufman's presentation of two precise personalities that keeps the movie centered in our own sentiments. Carrey's Joel is a prototypical postmillennial male, swamped by his desire to be sensitive, yet constantly feeling his need for measured machismo. Not quite the nebbish of other Kaufman creations (John Cusack's Craig Schwartz, the split personality puzzle of Nicholas Cage's Adaptation twins), Joel is just a regular, regressed guy, a representation of everything men feel deep down inside yet refuse to face. Instead they try to hide it from themselves with pitchers of beer, sports cheers, and clenched fists.
As for the other half of the equation, Winslet's Clementine is like every woman unbound, blessed with all her sexuality and self-esteem issues front and friggin' center. Making moodiness a point of pride and attacking the world like she's battling a nonstop episode of euphoric PMS, she is all facets of the female fully realized, every single thing that makes ladies such a mystery and enigma. That she also comes across as incredibly desirable and delicate is yet another example of how in tune Kaufman is with his subject matter.
In order to balance out just how human and humble our devolving lovers really are, Kaufman and Gondry present an opposing quartet as quagmire, the individuals responsible for running the Lacuna Clinic. All four of these ancillary characters -- Elijah Wood's Patrick, Mark Ruffalo's Stan, Kirsten Dunst's Mary, and Tom Wilkinson's Dr. Mierzwiak -- represent the romantic comedy clichés, the urbane elements of the standard stilted sex farce we've come to expect from the regressive Tinsel Town tale. These are the fools falling in and out of bed with each other, using every tired trick in the book to get some possible play. Like a gratuitous Greek chorus, offering their awful actions as a chance to see how superficial most "relationships" really are, you could actually argue that they represent the cruder, more commonplace perceptions of interpersonal interfacing: adultery, the crush, sexual gamesmanship, and frisky frivolity. Watching Dunst pine away for the older, more awkward Wilkinson, or how hard both Wood and Ruffalo preen and pose for their possible paramours, you begin to learn the rarity in what Carrey and Winslet had. It makes you cheer harder for their reconciliation, and wonder just how many of these flawed facets you've personally employed over the years in your own pursuit of a companion. Their stories are so shallow, so based in the Madison Avenue mindset regarding closeness and coupling, that they become sensational satire. While Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is never a laugh riot, it is a ripe bit of ridicule for people of the Lacuna persuasion.
Finally, unlike Kaufman's other scripts (Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation), the oddball, eccentric element -- Lucuna's memory eradication machine -- is not the star of the show. Where all these other films used their peculiarity as a device to reach other, more ethereal goals, Kaufman's latest creation is just a unique ruse, a way of getting a jaded audience that's all cynical and wrapped up in itself to let down its guard and experience someone else's existence without a shroud of sour skepticism. By using this deceptive apparatus, with all its homemade technological believability, Kaufman is allowed to play out all the shorthand we take for granted in our personal transactions. We can sense that Joel and Clementine are both made for each other and probably doomed to their fate as unhappy non-lovers. Because the science involves and employs a memory map, we get to wander along the already played-out pathway between the pair. And thanks to both Gondry and Kaufman's desire to mess with the narrative flow of the film, kind of working from the breakup backwards (while also moving sideways and continuously shape-shifting), the road is as bumpy and indefinable as it would be in real life. It is this trip along the always elusive steps, that combination of pathways and pitfalls that lead to devotion and destruction, that makes Eternal Sunshine so marvelous.
What is great about Gondry's direction, too, is that he never once loses us, never once puts us in a position of scratching our head and wondering what all this means. Maybe such clarity is inherent in Kaufman's words, but it is up to Gondry to make them relevant and real to an audience. He must have us believing in the sanctuary of Joel's boyhood home, the truth of how important the vacant house on the beach really is/was to Clementine. From the hokey histrionics of the Lacuna machine to the simple sentiment of a lover spurned, Gondry must make the unreal seem sane and the theoretical perfectly pragmatic. And he does so brilliantly, creating the closest thing to a faultless flawed love story ever attempted.
Certainly, there are science fiction elements at play here, but Gondry goes for a subtler, suggestive approach. When things begin to fall apart in the mental world of Joel's Lacuna treatment, the special effect moments appear natural and normal, as if cars always fall from the sky, or houses implode as the memories pass. His first attempt at a Kaufman script, the fascinating and highly disappointing Human Nature, found the director going for the cartoon instead of the carefully constructed. Thankfully, he realized that reality, not the ridiculous, would work a hell of a lot better here, and thanks to his attention to authenticity, Eternal Sunshine is a remarkable, emotional experience.
While it is difficult to understand why Oscar only decided to award Winslet and Kaufman, there might be a rationale in how the film treats the truth that explains away the exclusion. Carrey is given the more thankless of the roles -- from a purely academic ideal -- in playing the quiet, introverted boyfriend spurned. Turning down his persona to a pre-Truman Show gravity, the otherwise extreme comic has the poor pathetic patsy routine down perfectly. And yet, when required to, Carrey makes Joel earnestly affecting, someone you could see women wanting to be with.
Similarly, Gondry's direction feels effortless, like a natural extension of the narrative instead of some mannered manipulation of the plot points. Because there are more human than hardware facets to this story, the lack of consideration for his efforts is almost excusable, as if all the individuals involved in evaluating film forgot that a movie doesn't get made on its own. Call it the documentarian dimension, or the "did his job too well" dynamic, but both Gondry and Carrey are on the outside looking in regarding Hollywood's biggest reward because they are the passive parts of the Eternal Sunshine experience, the rocks that hold the more histrionic aspects of the story in check.
That is why Winslet is so amazing as Clementine, so completely carved out of both pretense and pragmatics. Among the other brilliant things she brings to the role is a chameleon like ability to get lost and completely disappear. This is not the same person who played Rose in Titanic, Juliet in Heavenly Creatures, or the younger version of the famed poet in Iris. Her spooky, spontaneous earth child creation here is a remarkable bit of Method merging. Within seconds of seeing her onscreen, you forget all the hoopla and celebrity fanfare. All previous performances disappear and suddenly, we are completely locked into Clementine's world. We feel her sense of urgency and unease, begin to understand her restless, rambling soul, and fantasize about how those issues translate into emotion and affection. Trading off her stunning beauty for a more beatnik approach, Winslet is just the latest in a long line of fetching females (Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Patricia Arquette) who have become lost in the idiosyncratic images created for them by Kaufman. But here, Clementine is more at home in her funky form, less a prop and more a person. While the outer layers may be directorial or literary, the inner being is all actress.
And yet, it all comes back to the steps, the incremental movement of the heart into happiness -- or hurt. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is undoubtedly a great film, but it is also something that will grow and mature with age. While not quite a time capsule, it is indeed a statement of a certain truth about people. We all have someone we've loved (and if we're lucky, still get to love today), and there is all manner of emotions -- mixed, clear, confused and concrete -- that comes with said territory. For many, the main issues that linger are the mountains and valleys, the vertigo-inspiring highs and the suicidal lows, that come to define and defend their passion. But for Joel and Clementine, love is about discovery. It's about waking up next to someone and not feeling afraid. It's the familiar ring of a set of keys as they prepare to open the familial front door or the delightful little way they whisper to themselves as they read. Yes, there are brambles as well as flowers, the times when just the thought of his or her face makes you angry, or the tone of their voice sets you off. Nothing good ever comes from complacency. And nothing bad stays that way forever. In the universe of love/non-love, there will always be complications. They are irreconcilable truths about life. And life is never spotless and clean. Indeed, it is the greatest experience in the vast infinity of the cosmos. And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the great romances in the history of cinema.
From a technical standpoint, fans of the first DVD release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will be a bit disappointed that this obvious double-dip doesn't really expand on the already fine features presented there. Indeed, Disc One is absolutely identical to the previous offering. While the movie looks and sounds marvelous (more on that in a moment), the original bonuses are retained, intact. So for this rather inauspicious redux, all we get in addition is a second disc featuring four rather minor featurettes, as well as a great deal of pretty packaging (silver cardboard slip case, evocative image-filled gatefold disc holder, a self-congratulatory pamphlet/photo album). So if you're happy not knowing about how Gondry worked with his actors or how certain scenes and effects were realized, or do not care about the 18 minutes of deleted / extended scenes (most dealing with Joel's previous relationship with a girl named Naomi) then you're probably not in the market for a new version of the film.
As stated before, the Collector's Edition keeps the previously stellar 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the visual elements are indeed quite amazing. Gondry continues with the vérité style by muting the entire color palette, rendering everything flat and ordinary. Keeping that correction intact is a major issue for a remastering, and the folks at Universal do a reference quality job. The details are crisp and there is barely a bit of digital manipulation. From a purely visual stance, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks magnificent. Sonically, the various Dolby Digital mixes are also mind-blowing. Both the 5.1 DTS and 5.1 Surround are just sensational, giving a great feeling of ambience and anarchy that perfectly gel with Joel's quest, and the craziness of his colliding memories. All the channels are engaged, and we hear subtle hints and other atmospherics that really flesh out the spatial sense of the film. Gondry also has a casual hand with music, both of the scoring and pop song variety, and the aural attributes provided do both aspects proud.
As for the extras, Disc One is where you get most of the meat. There is a 30-second commercial for the fictional Lacuna Clinic (part of which is seen in the film), a video for Polyphonic Spree (a bit of entertaining ear candy called "Light and Day"), a standard studio publicity piece called "A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and "A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry," which is sort of self-explanatory.
The biggest bonus is, of course, a commentary by Gondry and writer Kaufman. However, don't expect to be blown away by their insights and ideas. Both men are subdued, rather routine in their discussion, and constantly amazed at how good their film is. No matter how correct their assessment may be, we would have liked more descriptions of the shooting situations (Gondry discusses his fear of filming in Canada -- ? -- and the use of smoke in the scenes) or the inspiration for the script (Kaufman only says, "It's based on me"). At least the "Look Inside" and the "Conversation" are more hands on, giving us explanations and examinations of the film's facets by everyone involved. Indeed, there is a feeling that the producers, who appear often in each featurette, created these extras to get their thoughts down for future DVD inclusion. Frankly, what's lacking in all this material is a sense of substance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deserves better than this basic bit of digital PR fluff.
Disc Two provides us the new material, and some of it is fairly decent. The deleted and extended scenes do show us how Carrey's character came to be such a disconnected man. The material with Naomi is almost painful, considering we know in advance how hurt Joel was by the relationship. There is also a longer first date sequence with Clementine that seems to go on forever, with lots of probing patter between the newly forming couple.
The rest of the featurettes are interview based, with Gondry front and center in all of them. "Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry" is interesting, in that it focuses on how he approached the complicated issues in the movie. "A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry" is a comfortable, casual sit-down between the actress and the director that kind of de-evolves into personal anecdotes and backslapping plaudits. "Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue" explains most of the special effects used to realize this surreal set piece. Blink-and-you'll-miss-them moments are meticulously described, and the logistical nightmares of location shooting are highlighted. Frankly, none of this material is must-see. Some of it often plays like contractual appeasement for the cast and crew. Instead of really getting into the essence of what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about, this whole Collector's Edition plays like nothing more than an Electronic Press Kit on steroids. Here's hoping that someone like Criterion takes a crack at this title in the future. It deserves all the real context and supplements it can get.
"Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach for hands that are not there." -- Otomo No Yakamochi
Somewhere, there is a sun that shines, its rays of light warming only you and your one special soulmate. It is a place where dreams dance for your enjoyment and the heart beats in sync with the rhythms of the world. It is a land where every part of your existence merges -- infancy and old age, youth and maturity -- and you suddenly stop being fragmented and become unified and complete. Time stands still, gravity ceases its pull, and suddenly there you are, floating free and lazing in a vacuum created out of tenderness and desire. Nothing could be more perfect, and in this land called love, nothing ever will be. The power of this amazing emotion cleanses the spirit, keeps you safe from unseen evils, and spins you into a narcotic high of amazing physical and psychological depth. No wonder we are reluctant to leave, willing to do just about anything to stay within its beautiful, enraptured boundaries.
But we would never know light if it wasn't for darkness, never know joy if it wasn't for pain. Sacrifice is as big a part of happiness as satisfaction, and yet many of us would willingly trade the travails just to get directly to the good stuff. How shallow is that? How petty? How plain? There is no true contentment in a spotless mind. The eternal sunshine is far too bright, the thought of never-ending day too disturbing. Life is not monochrome. Life is Technicolor. It is a rainbow, a sketchpad filled with children's primitive finger paints. It is a masterpiece by Monet. It is a stain on your shirt. It's the song you hum to yourself that makes you stupidly blissful. It's the words you remember when depression dresses up for your usual dinner date. Getting to the land of love is part of this permanent pitfall called life. And no film in recent memory has done such a stellar job of helping us see the gratitude of that glow as well as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"Someone told me once there really is a wonderland...
Do you think so?
Could it be so?
Oh...I hope so."
-- Holly Beth Vincent
Aside from the double-dipping issue and the Judge's less than stellar feelings toward the extras, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and all of the facets included with this DVD are found not guilty. Case closed.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
* A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry
* Feature Commentary with Director Michel Gondry and Writer Charlie Kaufman
* Deleted Scenes
* Polyphonic Spree Music Video
* Lacuna Commercial
* Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
* Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue
* A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Director Michel Gondry
* Deleted and Extended Scenes
* Souvenir Booklet
* Official Site