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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story.”

This movie occupies a genre or category almost completely by itself. Like the other films in IMDb's top 40 by viewer voting, it ranks as a classic which will last in its relevance for perhaps as long as people watch movies. I expect that ranking to rise in the years ahead as more people watch the film. The Academy awarded only one Oscar to Eternal Sunshine: “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.” It surely deserved that. Though 2004 was a year with many good films this movie deserved more recognition. Its genre probably worked against that. As an indicator of the complex nature of its variety, though most call Eternal Sunshine romance or science fiction, it also won The Bram Stoker Award for best screenplay of 2004. Eternal Sunshine and its cast received many nominations and won a fair number of less well known awards.

Most often in past movie reviews, I have given a slice of action from the beginning of the film to introduce the major characters and plot. However, with this movie, I fear that I might spoil part of what makes Eternal Sunshine so entertaining by using that method. The film excels in plot and characterization, but the unusual nature with which the film delivers both, probably make it unique. I found discovering that aspect of the film's nature one of the most pleasing aspects of the movie. So, instead of my usual review method, I will outline the beginning of the story and introduce the characters as they come into that summary.

If pressed I would categorize Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a soft science fiction horror romance. That probably sounds fairly rarefied, but I can think of another story which could also fit in such a category: The Lathe of Heaven, which has been filmed twice. The central romance in Eternal Sunshine involves Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), although other romances also figure in the story. After a two year relationship, Joel and Clementine reach a very troubled period. The extremely impulsive Clementine seeks an escape. Joel discovers through events and talking with friends, specifically another couple Carrie (Jane Adams) and Rob (David Cross), that Clementine has erased him from her memory through the services of a business: Lacuna Inc.

Joel goes to Lacuna's offices and fills out forms given him by receptionist/secretary Mary Svevo (Kirsten Dunst) in her waiting room so he can meet with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). Dr. Mierzwiak assures him that Lacuna produces results and that Clementine “was not happy and she wanted to move on.” Shortly, in retaliation, Joel decides to use Lacuna's services to have Clementine erased from his memory. In another meeting with Dr. Mierzwiak, Joel discovers what he must do to make Clementine's erasure possible. Dr. Mierzwiak also gives Joel a short tour of the business, during which he meets Stan Fink (Mark Ruffalo), the technician who will perform the erasure of  Clementine from his memory. On the evening of the memory removal Stan and his assistant Patrick (Elijah Wood) show up in a van outside Joel's apartment. Joel takes the preparatory drugs which knock him out. After putting him to bed, Stan and Patrick begin the process, during which, as viewers, we discover most events of Joel and Clementine's romance. At the same time, Joel discovers he really doesn't want to lose the memory of Clementine. His efforts to save those memories make up most of the rest of the film.

Kate Winslet gives an outstanding performance as Clementine, for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. Jim Carrey has long been recognized as an accomplished comic actor. If even after The Majestic and especially The Truman Show, someone, somewhere, still doubts Jim Carrey's ability as a serious actor, his performance as Joel in this film should put those doubts to rest. All the supporting actors also give tremendous performances. However, director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman deserve the biggest accolades for making this wonderful movie. Both the story and the way in which it unfolds make Eternal Sunshine one of the most memorable films of any era.

Often I select movies to review based on their relevance to human liberty, power and its abuse, self discovery or forging new paths. Each of those themes has some relevance to this movie. However, even more fundamental themes can make a film interesting to an individualist. The romance aspect of this movie seems obvious; so, also, the science fiction angle of Lacuna's business. But what of the other part of my classification: horror?

Those aspects of life that make people individuals, each different and special in their own way, often form the theme of great individualist movies. Along with a few other things, our memories provide a great portion of what makes us each unique as individuals. Losing those memories means we also lose a great deal of ourselves. Loss of self – in many ways similar to death – horrifies. The parts of this film which describe that horror seem surreal, but our minds and memories often display features that aren't easily found in more mundane reality. Those parts also make this film unlike any other I have seen. All of these elements work together to make Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind one of those films that get my highest recommendation.

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