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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | Review

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Unusual romantic-comedy pairs visual smarts and innovative writing.

Pioneering directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry are tapping into a well that merges surreal, mind-bending ideas with human compassion,-a far-from generic formula which has reinvigorated the sloth of dreadful and unoriginal American productions. Mad genius, scribe Charlie Kaufman affectionately delivers yet another piece that focuses on a person’s cerebral and emotional functions.

Spawned from a dinner conversation over Being John Malkovich, Gondry originally approached Kaufman with a “what if?” type of proposal which sprouted the enigmatic result of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With a core of sympathetic yet confused characters Gondry’s madcap creation is painted on a canvas that harmoniously merges beautiful low budget filmmaking techniques with rabbit-out-a-hat film ideas. With an acquaint sense for the visual, Gondry understands the camera as more than just an apparatus for collecting images, he funnels an energy and creativity that is like no other- it translates especially well in his music video creations and this, his second outing in feature film which “erases” all recollection of his forgettable first feature the 2001 film, Human Nature.

The front man of the White Stripes, Jack White and actor Jim Carrey have more in common than having had or have Renée Zellweger as a main squeeze, they have both tremendously benefited from the genius that Gondry has to offer. Carrey is instrumental in forging the abstract world with a truthful depiction of someone living through a painful breakup and a confused state of déjà vu disasters. Usually Carrey-vehicles tend to make the actor play every single “starting position”, here he is allowed to affix himself into the role with sincerity and comic humor- something that he touched upon on his roles in the late 90’s. Carrey plays an introvert, a playful man who records his emotions in a diary instead of having them on displayed on his sleeves. Since this is a darker role, I expect the same sort of reaction as when real Adam Sandler fans had when they saw (Punch-Drunk Love),basically lots of confused and disappointed looks from people wanting the regular recycled persona. This is Carrey’s most mature performance to date, thankfully he doesn’t take up to much space-under Kaufman’s guise, he flourishes among the company of his girlfriend who, as a blue, orange, red and green fairy enters his life not once, but twice. Kate Winslet ( The Life of David Gale ) is so fresh and energetic in her role, while the remainder of the cast in Wood (Mona Lisa Smile), Dunst (Mona Lisa Smile) and Ruffalo ( My Life Without Me) add to the kookiness of it all. Tom Wilkinson ( In the Bedroom) gives us a reason to question all the confidentially doctor-patient relations, but he is so genuine in a white overcoat that the freak idea of the Lacuna procedure actually comes across as credible.

Playing with the narrative timeline, the best way in which to describe the film is how the filmmaker refers to it as “a love-story in reverse”. A “dent” on the side of a car door becomes a parable for a story that discusses how to heal old wounds with a non-traditional method. Reflecting on the nature of relationships between lovers and how sometimes the flame flickers out of a relationship-there is a circular progression that shifts between personal relationship mementos and other monsters from our psyche such as in childhood traumas. Cupid has finally got a way to repair his mistakes. Lucuna-a company, whose busiest week is that of Valentine’s Day, offers a revolutionary painless non-surgical memory erasing, there is no need for broken relationships with withdrawal symptoms, dirty dishes and unshaven beards-basically a clean slate charged to your credit card.

The free form of the story matches the free flow of the camera; there are some neat camera tricks that further add to the joy of this viewing. In more than one scene we get a subjective point of view on how a brain stores and erases facets of the memory-the beach side misadventures are quite marvelous to look at as are the simpler moments of a couple talking under the sheets. The power of Gondry and Kaufman’s work is that this is one of the rare occasions where a romantic comedy is treated with both a sense of serious and sense of humor and how it also goes to the dark places where we “real” humans find ourselves in. If the premise sounds off the wall, it is somehow normalized by how Gondry treats his subjects, the psychedelic imaginer is cross-examined with the sensitive reflection of how relationships turn sour, and how we learn from all those moments you sometimes wished you could have again. Gondry cares about these characters, but most importantly wants their hearts to germinate throughout the film.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a sophomore collaboration that exceeds expectations and holds itself up until the finish line with a pleasant bittersweet rotation in emotion. Comparing Kaufman’s work it is perhaps a notch below Adaptation, but leagues above crappy romantic comedies made available by the bigger studios. Hopefully, people won’t press the “delete” button on this feature, because it may be the best comedy in this early part of the year and complete 2004 slate, giving Focus Features a nice follow-up to (Lost in Translation)

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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