Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ** 1/2
Directed by Michel Gondry. Written by Charlie Kaufman, based on a story by Mr. Kaufman, Mr. Gondry and Pierre Bismuth. Photography,Ellen Kuras. Editing, Valdis Oskarsdottir. Music, Jon Brion. Production design, Dan Leigh. Producers, Steve Golin & Anthony Bregman. A Focus Features release. 108 minutes. R. Cast: Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Mark Ruffalo (Stan), Elijah Wood (Patrick), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Howard Mierzwiak).
Maverick Charlie Kaufman is hot stuff nowadays, following his screenplays for “Being John Malkovich,” (directed by Spike Jonze), “Human Nature,” (by Michel Gondry), “Adaptation,” (Jonze). (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” was not a hit.)
Michel Gondry did nicely in his native France with short films and music videos, is doing even better in the United States with a host of music videos, including a set of five on Bjork. His first feature (“Human Nature” USA, 2001) is an interesting curiosity. “Eternal Sunshine…,” his second collaboration with Kaufman, is attracting major attention.
This is a vehicle for a “serious” Jim Carrey (Joel) paired off with a vivacious—if not hyperthyroid-- Kate Winslet (Clementine.) They meet as strangers on a train –but that’s the only, vaguely Hitchcockian aspect of this work. But they do not “meet cute,” and Clementine is the hunter while Joel is the hunted.
An affair is born but later sours for Clem. To wipe her mind clear of Joel she submits to a specific treatment at the Lacuna Inc. “clinic” of Dr. Tom Wilkinson (Howard Mierzwiak.) Then Joel, to eliminate his remembrance of Clem, does the same. (The scenes and sequences of non-memory are campy.)
Here I erase totally the zig-zag, back-and-forth development of the story and its characters. The continuities and discontinuities, part real, part unreal, part surreal, and the mind games, are not always easy to follow. The situations, images and sequences span various times, including Joel’s childhood.
The movie has its own brand(s) of humor, physical and linguistic. The best joke is when Lacuna’s receptionist (Kirsten Dunst), trying to impress Dr. Howard, uses a quote –which is the movie’s cryptic title—of “Pope Alexander” whom her boss gently corrects to “Alexander Pope.” This tiny touch will no doubt separate the literati from the hoi polloi in the audience. (I spent hours tracking down the Pope poem. Of course we all know that Pope Alexander was the friend of Swift Jonathan and Gay John.)
The film-makers are, in some ways, influenced by the French New Wave cineasts. A particularly clever sequence has memoryless Joel and Clem meeting at the Barnes and Noble store where she works. There are tons of books on the shelves, all of them with blank spines. I read this as a reverse homage to Godard who persistently focused on books and titles, and to Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
“Eternal Sunshine” is not easy to rate. A second viewing is required to digest this picture –and possibly up its rating.