Saw “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” last night. I’ve been waiting for this movie to come out for months now. Charlie Kaufman is an amazing writer, having written “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, all of which I thought were excellent. And, from the previews of “Eternal Sunshine”, showing scenes of bizarre contrasts (and Kirsten Dunst dancing in her underwear), overlaid with the perfect choice of music, ELO’s ridiculously over-the-top ode to optimism “Mr. Blue Sky”, all hinting at the underlying premise, I realized that Mr. Kaufman is now doing in film what Phillip K. Dick was doing in novels 30, 40, even 50 years ago. It’s about time movies caught up with the printed word.
The premise is simple to describe, but carries a lot of depth and room to explore: Joel and Clementine (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet), having had a bad breakup, each decide to undergo a procedure where their painful memories of each other are erased. The movie is told from Joel’s point of view, and as he slowly loses both the good and the bad memories of Clementine, he has second thoughts, and struggles, from within his own mind, to stop or reverse the process.
The incredible depth of feeling shown by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in their roles is contrasted with the goofiness of the technicians performing the erasure; those scenes, with Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson as the creator of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (goddamn Kaufman comes up with great names!), distract needlessly from the story I most wanted to see, although Kaufman does tie it back together at the end.
But the few sour notes (like Kirsten Dunst’s character and her subplot) do not take away from the painful beauty of watching Joel re-live his relationship with Clementine, peeling back the rotten outer layers and revealing the quiet moments of love and awkward beginning of her coming into his life. Anyone who has fallen in love and watched it fall apart can empathize with the lovers on screen; laughing at their giddy highs and wincing at their spiteful bickering.
When Dr. Mierzwiak asks Joel to collect everything that reminds him of Clementine, my first reaction was astonishment; when someone has been that close to you, it seems that everything can carry a reminder of that person. How could someone quantify every connection they had with a lover? Because, oftentimes, it’s not just small mementos or trinkets or cards that are the vector of a relationship; it’s also places, certain streets or cafés… or even songs or singers or actors… or even concepts, ideas… You get the idea. Our lives intertwine with the other to the point that extracting them from our lives is impractical, possibly even unrealizable. But Dr. Mierzwiak treats this as just a simple step in his process of exorcism, and Joel’s earnest acceptance of this reflects the characters’ naïeveté.
Of special note is watching Joel enlist his memory of Clementine in his quest to save his memories of her. It’s treated in an almost off-hand way, but I immediately picked up on it (all those PKD stories have prepared me for this type of plot twist, I think. I miss you, Phil). Is Joel interacting with just his memories, or is this, in fact, the “real” Clementine? Since, back in the “real” world, Clementine has also undergone this process, did she, also have doubts once she started to lose Joel? There is obviously some connection between the lovers, but is that a mundane material connection of having shared some time together… or is there something more that links the two, even to the point of existing, in some small way, in each other’s heads, that allows them to join forces and counter the erasure?
Brilliant. I will see this movie again.
This movie is Most Highly Recommended.