The International Writers Magazine:Review of Charlie Kaufman's
new film starring Jim Carrey
Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
Dir: Michel Gondry - Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kate Dunst, Mark
Ruffalo, Elijah Wood. 107 mins
This film is the second collaboration between Gondry and Kaufman
(previously the much unseen Human Nature.)
it was the trailer, certainly the first night audience for Charlie Kaufmans
long awaited new film, his first since last years Adaptation
and Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, was expecting something
else. The trailer had a different beat, pacily cut to attract us to
a man seeking to erase the memory of a nightmare relationship when something
goes horribly wrong with the process and he is trapped in childhood,
unable to get back. At least that was my impression. The fact that it
also starred Jim Carrey meant that there should have been a few laughs
in there as well. Of course Jim isnt contractually bound to make
us laugh, but he owes us after the abysmal Bruce
Almighty of last year. I still believe The Truman Show
is his best film to date and that had him a serious mode.
So when we watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'
and discover it is girlfriend, fetchingly played by a very lively eccentric
Kate Winslet who is having HIM erased from her memory thats a
nice twist. Naturally, he is emotionally devastated by this and when
he goes to her place of work and she doesnt recognise him he knows
it is true, he has been banished. Unable to stand the pain of loss,
he allows himself to have her memory erased at Lacuna Inc as revenge.
But why has Clementine taken this drastic step. Did he mistreat her?
Beat her? All too quickly we can see the problem. Kate Winslet plays
Clementine a wild untamed woman who expects too much out of love and
life and is just as quickly disappointed by the same. What we cant
really see is why she is attracted to Joel (Jim Carrey), a morose loner,
with an unspecified job and no life, although he can sketch. Opposites
attract perhaps, but not once is there a spark of chemistry here between
them and you feel that neither she nor he really need the services of
a memory eraser agency to forget each other.
Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) runs the lo-tech memory erase service
(Lacuna Inc) with the aide of Mary (Kirsten Dunst) and two computer
nerds Stan and Patrick played by Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood.
Curiously, we got to see something with a parallel storyline last month
in the UK. The Butterfly Effect (reviewed elsewhere in Hacks)
is the story of man who makes a mistake (which causes a childhood sweetheart
to commit suicide) and using an inherited genetic ability to move time,
tries to make a difference to the girls life so she wont
die. He is given chance after chance and each time one small thing ruins
it and someone else suffers a terrible fate. Butterfly Effect is a deeply
underrated film that deserved more success for its intelligent
approach to fate. There are similarities to 21 Grams in
the way it is structured as well. A non-linear fashion in editing that
suits DVD versions of these films and those who like to watch scenes
out of sequence again and again.
Eternal Sunshine however suffers from (Attention Deficit Disorder) ADD
syndrome. Charlie Kaufman gave us Being John Malkovitch back
in 1999 and it seemed then that here at last was a brave new beginning
for cinema at the turn of the millennium. Five years on, after surviving
Ms Streep and gritting teeth through Nicholas Cage wrestling both Kaufman
brothers to the ground in Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine is not
as interesting as it should have been and pretty much blows its
goodwill in the first ten minutes.
There is a movie to be made about a Prozac society that is desperate
to forget they are alive and one that is so completely sold on the idea
that love is answer to everything. Theres no man or woman alive
over the age of thirty that doesnt have something or someone to
forget. Life is about regret apparently. Lacuna Inc would make a fortune
in the real world. There would be queues around the block. Joel we discover
is dysfunctional because he was bullied as a child and often ignored
by his Ma who preferred a good cocktail. There are intelligent moments
as Joel tries to fight the erasure process and hides in his humiliation;
as a child with the aid of a conspiratorial (but imaginary Clementine.)
There could have been a good thriller about this. (Philip K Dick used
to write about implanted memories all the time, the rather shoddy Total
Recall for example and of course back in 1961 (or thereabouts,)
there was Frankenheimers brilliant The Manchurian Candidate
starring the late Laurence Harvey as the assassin brainwashed by the
Koreans. Time to remake that with Bin Laden brainwashing a US soldier
with good connections to run for President Oh wait Kerry is already
Eternal Sunshine is not entirely superfluous. It is well crafted and
Kate Winslet proves she has star quality all over again, but all the
high jinx with Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst whilst his memory is being
erased seems so damn trivial. You just want to shake Charlie Kaufman
out of his writers block and yell, get on with it. There is a
special movie here, somewhere. Oddly enough I am reminded of American
Splendour. Another story of a dysfunctional character at odds with
the real world.
In Eternal there are neat special effects as people and objects start
to disappear with increasing speed and inventive delays as Joel subconsciously
realises that he no longer want to erase this woman he really loves
and desperately tries to evade the cleansing process. It
through this desperate fight against Lacunas erasure process that
we discover how much he really loves this woman and the screen finally
comes to life.
Kaufman and Gondry cleverly play with our minds and notions of time.
You discover the beginning of the film is not what it seems and then
there is the sexual relationship between Mary and Howard slowly but
finally bursting out and overwhelming Joels story. Didnt
McKee teach him that bit about remembering who exactly is the protagonist?
If this film had more tension, more pace or the wit of American Beauty,
it might have been a contender; but you know what, Im beginning
to forget this film as I write about it and that isnt a good sign.
My memory of it began to fade the further I got from the multiplex.
Thats a shame.
© Sam North May 1st 2004
all rights reserved