Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Director: Michel Gondry

Writers: Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry

Main Cast:
Jim Carrey – Joel Barish
Kate Winslet – Clementine Kruczynski
Gerry Robert Byrne – Train Conductor
Elijah Wood – Patrick
Thomas Jay Ryan – Frank
Mark Ruffalo – Stan
Jane Adams – Carrie
David Cross – Rob
Kirsten Dunst – Mary
Tom Wilkinson – Dr. Howard Mierzwiak
Ryan Whitney – Young Joel
Debbon Ayer – Joel's Mother

Running time: 109 Minutes

Rating: R

Year of Release: 2004 

To sum up: Sunshine is a loopy, twisting journey through the mind of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a blue, blue soul who wants to forget his past and then realizes he doesn’t. 


“How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd”


        Jim Carrey plays Joel Barish a sad sack of a depressed person who awakes one day and on a whim heads off to the beach. There, he catches sight of Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), blue-haired and full of outgoing energy. His total opposite, he reacts to her like I do with all of the women I see, he draws inwards and seeks refuge in the little journal he keeps. It doesn’t matter, for she catches him catching sight of her and fearlessly makes contact with him. To call the relationship stable is like calling “Platoon” a family film. He’s too matronly and she’s too much the extrovert. They drive each other crazy until one day, he goes to visit her and she acts like she’s never seen him before. In tears and dejected, he soon comes to learn that it is not a simple act. She instead went to a doctor and literally had any memory of him erased from her mind. He, of course, reacts rationally and comes up with the correct response, payback. He will go to the same place and have the same thing done to himself. But halfway through the procedure, he decides that doesn’t want to lose these memories and desperately tries to find locations in his mind where he can tuck away at least a fleeting shadow of this woman he loves.

        Carrey is good as the eternally depressed Joel. He shows a restraint that is rarely seen in his films and he also produces and emotional honesty in his performance. He does have the acting chops to produce a genuine dramatic range when he wants to. Winslet is good as well, playing the emotionally corrupt Clementine. Whether with blue hair or fiery orange, she seems at home in her skin, very natural with her extremely outgoing need of her “right-this-minute” emotional fulfillment.

        The question is, “What is the film trying to say?” That memories are valuable, even the ones that hurt us? Isn’t it good that your mind isn’t a Hard Drive that can have specific items deleted at will? Could it be that we are inevitably drawn towards one another, on some cosmic biological level and no amount of effort will enable you to avoid it? I think that there are tidbits of all of these themes, but there is also this one. Even though familiarity breeds contempt, we are still foolish enough to proceed into unhealthy relationships with unhealthy people because the highs are so high that they outweigh the inevitable lows.

        If there is a flaw to the film, it’s that it is populated with irresponsible losers. Carrey’s so wishy-washy he makes Charlie Brown look like a rock. Winslet lets her emotional swings rule her brain. Stan (Mark Ruffalo) as one of the brain-wipers just barely achieves quasi-responsibility as a worker. Patrick (Elijah Wood) will do just about any shamelessly tacky thing to try to pick up a girl. Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Howard Mierzwiak is in the same league with Wood. The only one who is moderately sympathetic is Mary (Kirsten Dunst) who’s still cheap enough to hit on a married guy. Nobody is really likeable. These are not people to care about. They don’t elicit sympathy. For this viewer, the film was an abstract painting of a journey through the subconscious. It may have engaged me intellectually but it didn’t emotionally. The people weren’t entertaining losers like the ones in “Pulp Fiction” or “A Clockwork Orange”.

        But let me also say that it is a really fascinating abstract painting of a journey through the subconscious. Going into the operation, the doctors have mapped out the location of all of Joel's memories that involve Clementine. We enter the world of his subconscious and watch it crumble and disappear along with that particular memory (Just hope that you don’t have any other vital information in that same memory like a safe combination). Anyway, Joel suddenly discovers that his impulsive need to get back at Clementine and erase her, as she did to him, was a mistake. He doesn’t want to lose the few remaining memories of her, so he takes her “off the map” in an effort to hide her somewhere in his mind. The question is can he do it? Because of that, the trip becomes more surreal as he searches for new places and obscure memories to hide her. It is very creative and highly original for, on that journey, he learns more about himself than his repressed conscious self would usually allow.

        That is the beauty of this film. It keeps the audience off balance. One is never really sure where the story is going to go. The twists and turns are never predictable and even when you guess correctly, there’s still a twist within the predictable to keep it fresh.

        It’s not spotless, but I didn’t mind this eternal sunshine.


(2004. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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