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The International Writers Magazine
:Review of Charlie Kaufman's new film starring Jim Carrey

Eternal 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.)

Perhaps it was the trailer, certainly the first night audience for Charlie Kaufman’s 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 isn’t 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 that’s a nice twist. Naturally, he is emotionally devastated by this and when he goes to her place of work and she doesn’t 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 can’t 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 girl’s life so she won’t 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 it’s 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 it’s 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. There’s no man or woman alive over the age of thirty that doesn’t 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 Frankenheimer’s 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 running...)

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 writer’s 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 Lacuna’s 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 Joel’s story. Didn’t 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, I’m beginning to forget this film as I write about it and that isn’t a good sign. My memory of it began to fade the further I got from the multiplex. That’s a shame.
© Sam North May 1st 2004



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