Let this Sunshine into your Mind
Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's brain, "spotless" is probably one of the last to come to mind.
We are well acquainted, rather, with some of Kaufman's darker and more warped neural pathways through his screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. In the latter film, Kaufman wrote himself into his screenplay of Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief. His character? A writer named Charlie Kaufman who begins to write himself into his adaptation of Orlean's The Orchid Thief. (At this point I usually squeeze my eyes shut and listen to my brain cells popping. Comprehension slips further away.) So it is with this truly odd example that we approach the loveably bipolar Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are Joel and Clementine, lovers whose passionate and volatile relationship becomes more unbearable the more they try to patch things up. Unable to stay together and even more incapable of staying apart, the unhappy couple decide the only solution is to completely wipe out their memories of each other.
The film's title comes from the poem "Eloisa to Abelard" (1717) by Alexander Pope, in which the forcibly separated lovers are tortured by recollections of their tragic affair. While Eloisa and Abelard seek distraction in religious orders, Joel and Clem turn to the religion of modern medicine, more specifically Lacuna, Inc.
The actual procedure involves a metal colander and thousands of lines of computer code-two things with which I have very little experience-but at the end of it the tumultuous relationship is forgotten. Sort of. Lacuna-the word means "a gap, an empty space, spot, or cavity" according the the Oxford English Dictionary-promises tidy and complete erasure, but the gap in each patient's memories actually resembles a raggedier, ozone-type hole. This could be because the technician is stoned for most of the film, or because colander technology is a tragically neglected field, but the primary reason for the procedure's inaccuracy is the fact that the unconscious Joel changes his mind halfway through.
Kaufman and director Michel Gondry are not trying to chart the mind; rather, they follow Joel's neural jailbreak with a dogged, bouncing-camera kind of enthusiasm. Like the memories of Clementine, Eternal Sunshine's style is wildly eclectic. At first the cinematography is stable and sane, everything save Winslet's ever-changing hair is the proper color, Jim Carrey's head on a two-year-old's body is nowhere in sight. Then, as Joel's awareness and hysteria simultaneously climb, the film gets darker, brighter, more tender, more violent. Joel leads Clem deeper and deeper into his memories in an effort to "hide" her in one that won't be erased ("Joel!" she commands, "hide me in your humiliation!").
The film takes the all of Kaufman's dizzying screenplay in stride, revealing the highs and lows of its protagonists with unflinching honesty and a good sense of humor. Similarly, Carrey and Winslet convince us that their characters are destined for each other without ever succumbing to clich‚d, starry-eyed behavior or sacrificing a bit of Joel or Clem's fiercely independent identities.
Much depends upon the willingness-or better, the desire-to be confused. In fact, one of the film's great attributes is its refusal to explain itself too much. Eternal Sunshine certainly bears the distinguishing marks of a Kaufman script, but it is a better movie than any of the others he's worked with. The film's morphing memoryscapes linger in one place or on one emotion just long enough before cartwheeling confidently on to the next.
Rating: 4 Polar Bears (of 4)
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