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Sep 9, 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I'm not sure why I hadn't seen this movie until now. Charlie Kaufman is one of the two or three most inventive scriptwriters on the planet, even if he did once write episodes of Ned and Stacey. Michel Gondry is a wizardly director. Maybe it's Jim Carrey who put me off. He's an actor who did brilliant work in The Truman Show, then pissed away the credibility with annoying performances in things like The Grinch and Bruce Almighty. The guy has the acting chops to be anything he wants but sooner or later his mugging gets in the way.

That having been said, Carrey's acting in Eternal Sunshine is superb. This film is also one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Good SF is about the effects of technology or other changes upon human beings, and that is at the heart of Eternal Sunshine. Not just of Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) who undergo memory erasure after their relationship breaks up, but everyone whom this technology touches. There are some dark places that this movie explores that are unexpected and very scary.

Eternal Sunshine is also a high wire act. The structure is non-linear, about half of the movie takes place in the mind of a sleeping man and with a little less art, the love story here could be too cute to carry off the pathos. But there is a verisimilitude in the characters that makes it all work.

The supporting cast is uniformly good. Tom Wilkinson as the doctor who can Forget It For You Wholesale, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood as his lab technicians and Kirsten Dunst as his receptionist. Even David Cross as Joel's friend has a nice cameo which is more serious than most of his work.

Very few films make CGI work to support the story rather than be the story. There are some incredibly disconcerting pieces of visual magic here. A bookshop where the covers of the volumes are becoming blank as the memory of the encounter is being erased. A row of shops that seems to be in a space warp. A house that collapses in on itself as the memory of it is destroyed. All strong visual metaphors for the firecracker chain of erasure that is occurring as Joel tries to retain memories of Clementine whom he loved and lost.

If you've not seen this one yet, lucky you. You're in for a touching, profound treat.

(Originally posted Monday, January 03, 2005)

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