Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michel Gondry

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Just before Valentine's Day, Joel (Jim Carrey) learns that his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), has had him erased from her memory. He subsequently decides to undergo the same procedure, but, even while it is being done, he realizes that, despite the troubles he and Clementine had, he does not want to lose her.

Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a sometimes overdone, but generally engaging, often quirky, and surprisingly touching film.

A large part of the movie consists of depictions of Joel's memories of Clementine as they are being erased. Beginning with the most recent of these, which largely concern the couple's fights, and then proceeding to earlier and earlier recollections, which reveal the depth of their affection, the circumstances of their meeting, and their distinctive experiences, the director gradually reveals the lives of his two protagonists to the viewer and so allows him to participate intimately in their existences. Having so exposed the cruel insults this pair exchanged in their final days together, their joyous visit to a frozen lake, where Joel pointed out make-believe constellations, and the awkward, uncertain moments they shared when they first made one another's acquaintance, Gondry enlivens his foray into Joel's mind by showing how that man, after he has realized that he does not want to forget Clementine, tries to save some trace of her by inserting her into various unpleasant memories in which she had no part. In one of these, Joel imagines himself as a child hiding under a table while picturing Clementine as one of his adult neighbors. In another, he thinks of his girlfriend as sitting next to him in bed on an occasion when his mother walked into his room while he was masturbating, and, in a third, he dreams of playing with her in his yard after, as a child, he was bullied into striking a bird with a hammer. Unfortunately, while such sequences are individually enjoyable and even moving, the presentation of one of them after another does eventually become tedious.

Nevertheless, Joel and Clementine are sufficiently well realized characters that they are able to keep the moviegoer involved in their story. The former is a quiet, cautious man who is not adept at expressing his feelings, although his emotions certainly run deep, and the later is an extremely extroverted, daring young woman who regularly changes her hair color from red to green to blue to some other hue. Each is, moreover, different enough from the other so their misunderstandings and frustrations as well as their mutual attraction, their ability to delight in one another's uniqueness, have a sense of authenticity. The viewer cannot but feel Joel's aggravation with and his love of Clementine's carefree wilfulness as well as her annoyance with and curiosity about his profound taciturnity.

Interspersed with the sequences focusing on this pair, which, for the most part, show Joel's memories, are others revealing the activities of the persons removing these while their patient is sleeping in his apartment. In these scenes, the viewer sees how Stan (Mark Ruffalo), the technician in charge of the procedure, and his girlfriend, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), who previously had an affair with Dr. Howard Mierzqwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the physician by whom both of these persons are employed, get stoned, drink beer, and dance on their client's bed, how Patrick (Elijah Wood), Stan's assistant, confesses to having stolen Clementine's panties and then leaves so that he can continue with his quest to seduce her, how Mary attempts to seduce her older, married former lover, and how her efforts to do so have surprising and significant consequences. Although none of these individuals are as intriguing as are the protagonists, and are also a generally unlikable lot, the scenes in which they appear help to maintain the movie's pace. Without them, it could have been far more tiresome than it is.

While it is unlikely that the viewer will be awed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry has created a pleasant and often moving film.

Review by Keith Allen

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