Universal // 2004 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // May 9th, 2007
"This is it, Joel -- it's gonna be gone soon."
"What do we do?"
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So said Spanish-American poet and philosopher George Santayana in his 1905 The Life of Reason collection. Certainly, to not study events that have gone before and the effects they have had is to walk forward into unnecessary ambiguity and impropriety. Therefore, if an event in your life left you with feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction, the memories of said event alive and active in your consciousness, why not eradicate its presence in your brain?
That's exactly what Joel and Clementine decided to do.
Joel Barish (Jim Carrey, The Majestic) has just met a new girl, Clementine (Kate Winslet, Little Children) on the train to Montauk. Curiously, it was an impulse that caused Joel to even be on this train, still nursing the pain of his broken relationship with another girl. As he and Clementine get to know one another, they both note a sense of familiarity with one another. This isn't déjà vu, though, because it becomes ultimately clear that Clementine and Joel had undergone a two-year relationship, one that ended in a bitter and hurtful argument. In response, Clementine had Joel removed from her memory, thanks to a breakthrough procedure performed by the folks at Lacuna, Inc. Discovering this, Joel, too, elected to wash Clementine from his consciousness to avoid the pain of their dissolution. But, as the Lacuna team works to map and eradicate memories from Joel's brain, he actually experiences the recollections as they're targeted, soon realizing he's changed his mind, pleading the removal process be halted. Joel is asleep, though, and he can't possibly communicate to the Lacuna technicians that he's now discovered the value of his memories, the good as well as the bad.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) bests himself with this one, daring to suppose a technology could exist that would erase painful memories and, more concerning, that individuals would actually seek out such a procedure. A quick view of the Lacuna waiting room reveals the pain its patients want to escape -- a deceased dog, a departed child, and many of the lovelorn that busy the office to take advantage of its Valentine's Day special. It's a dark statement, really, that those among us who bear pain and disappointment in this unpredictable journey called "life" would chance a procedure -- it's elective brain damage, in actuality -- to avoid rather than integrate their collective experiences. But, in the prescience of Kaufman's script, he pegs the very potential within each of us, we who have become accustomed to immediate gratification and convinced that a simple "pill" could remove our feelings of disappointment of disenfranchisement so simply. The fact is, the core of those less desirable feelings is maintained deep within each of us and we are tasked to discover that no experiences or external elements can eradicate it.
So Kaufman's script, beautifully and lyrically realized by Director Michel Gondry, revels in its non-linear narrative, one that circles back upon itself with such abandon it would seem impossible to decipher even upon multiple viewings. The fact is, it makes perfect sense, since both men have effectively depicted the freewheeling nature of memories. Even though we're dropped into a point that consists of the breakup of Joel and Clementine at the film's beginning, we quickly come up to speed to the situation and the reason for Joel's impulse to catch the train to Montauk and his chance meeting with a seemingly unacquainted Clementine. The events veer and vacillate as we meet Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson, in an excellent performance) and learn how he and his staff (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood) have already had a hand in Joel's disconnected situation. Ultimately, this Lacuna, Inc. staff will reveal their own improprieties with the technology, the extent to which they, themselves, have been subjects of its results.
This brings us to Clementine, perfectly portrayed by Kate Winslet. She delivers a character that is largely disagreeable. 'Clem' says she's impulsive when she's really irresponsible. She claims she craves excitement when she's actually running from her own mundane self-image. And she changes her hair color to match whatever Crayola crayon fell out of the box that day, in an attempt to convince others she's carefree and fully self-confident; she isn't. While these superficial idiosyncrasies could be forgiven or merely ignored, Clem proves she's wholly self-absorbed within her own melodramatic existence when she decides to have Joel erased from her memory, "on a lark." Such a hurtful act cannot be excused and it gives potency to the objections that would and should be raised toward such memory cleansing. In essence, this elective procedure is much like a loaded gun in the hands of an amateur and will only result in the destruction of another, be it willful or accidental. Ultimately, Clem is not very likable at all and Winslet is to be duly admired for making her so.
And then there is Jim Carrey as Joel. Truth told, I have long proclaimed disdain for the bendable, stretchable, and predictable over-actor, his extreme comedy unwelcome in my screening room. Sure, he can elicit a giggle but his upstaging performance as the Riddler in Batman Forever forever put him on my "Do Not Watch" list. If ever there were a film-going memory that I could erase, that would be the one (and what little I saw of The Grinch). But I paused from outright dismissing him as I watched The Truman Show, the goofball showing me a glimpse of a potentially potent actor beneath the absurd exterior. Even so, I haven't actively sought out Carrey and, honestly, Eternal Sunshine found me, not the other way around. Here, Carrey has shown he's ready to grow up -- or so I hope -- by turning out a performance that is remarkably reserved and deeply internal. Having been noted as a man who uses performance to forget his pain, Carrey appears to draw on those unsettling and unresolved feelings to propel Joel, and it works.
The role of Joel is a difficult one, to be sure, since Carrey is tasked with convincing us to care for this scruffy introvert, in spite of Kaufman's whirling timeline of disjointed situations. Since the majority of the picture is spent inside Joel's mind as the search-and-destroy memory erasure technique plods ahead on its defined task, we get to know Joel backward and forward through a narrative that travels just as erratically. It's an amazing achievement that, through it all, we understand Joel so well and identify with his sudden change of heart. Kaufman's script is the vehicle, that is certain, but Carrey is without question the capable driver. Even though he does slip into momentary silliness (see the sink-bathing scene), he remains committed to the lost soul of Joel and explains how such a quiet schlep could be lured by the opposite-pole antics of Clem.
The most poignant and worthwhile aspect of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the moral it imparts -- accepting our lot in life along with the baggage that may accompany those with whom we court and consummate. This can be easily viewed as a cautionary tale of the unraveling that could occur from attempting to eradicate cognizance of our personal experiences. Better still, it reassures us with a message that painful memories are not solitary situations and, in all experiences, there is plenty of good to be retained. For better or for worse, this is life and it's worth living in its completeness, warts and all.
Universal maintains total recall in mastering a stellar high-definition disc with this HD DVD exclusive release. The 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer is quite impressive, delivering a velvety smooth texture thanks to the heavy reliance upon dark spaces with excellently graduated transitions to light and color. The saturation is deep, even though the production design often imposes a cerebral haziness. Detail is sharp without overt edge enhancement and the source elements appear to be practically pristine.
The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround mix serves as perfect compliment to the impressive picture quality. Although this is a largely dialog-driven affair, the sound design is remarkably active, as it would be in our dreams and internal recollections. The soundstage is well utilized with discrete effects alternately anchored then unleashed to move across and around the listening area. The excellent score by Jon Brion is properly balanced to provide texture and testament to the on-screen proceedings.
As for extras, Universal has somehow managed to squeeze the entire complement of bonus features from the regular and two-disc Standard Definition DVD releases. First up is the audio commentary featuring Gondry and Kaufman, two visionaries who are long on execution but somewhat brief in explanation. Their observations are mostly technical and tend to shy away from their own personal elements that most certainly entered the finished production. A highly promotional featurette, A Look Inside 'Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind', gives us 11 minutes on the set and interview snippets with the cast and crew. More palatable is A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry where the two seem to be seated in a high school music room, at student desks, where they discuss the production candidly. Likewise, A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry provides additional casual yet insightful conversation between the director and his female lead as they explore the elements of character development and narrative themes. Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry assembles the film's cast and crew for a relatively thorough examination of the exciting director and his seize-the-moment filmmaking style. This piece also includes Gondry himself revealing many of the impressive in-camera effects that were achieved. There is a collection of deleted scenes, some shown in unfinished form, that often extend existing sequences yet also provide some excellent insight into Joel's prior relationship with the unseen Naomi. Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue offers us a look at how the production team pulled off one of the film's more elaborate sequences, including a look into the creation of the score as well. A very unusual music video follows that you have to see to believe and, finally, a mock infomercial promoting Lacuna, Inc. rounds out this wealth of bonus material.
One of the more compelling aspects of Eternal Sunshine rests within its very title. Plucked from the oft-quoted prose of Alexander Pope, "eternal sunshine of a spotless mind" suggests a mental nirvana that would render the story's characters in a blissful state of being. The fact is the eternal sunshine is to be wished but never realized; the spotless mind to be desired but never achievable. In fact, as the narrative goes, the quest for memory cleansing results in more pain and unrest than the original memories themselves. Therefore, the title is allegorical and serves as the antithesis of what can and will actually transpire within the narrative.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not your typical Jim Carrey outing so don't expect as much. Despite the disc's highly misleading quote from Rolling Stone -- "a smart, sexy and seriously funny comedy!" -- it's certainly no romp. Instead, you get a very enticing journey into the minds and hearts of its characters, and you'll likely come away with a refreshed and recalibrated look at the value of our memories; they are to be treasured, they are to be nurtured, and they're among our most prized personal possessions.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman
* Featurette: A Look Inside 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'
* Featurette: A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry
* Featurette: A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry
* Featurette: Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
* Deleted and Extended scenes
* Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue
* Lacuna, Inc. Infomercial
* The Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video
* Official Site