Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
R, 110 m
with Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood.
Directed by Michel Gondry.
Human beings may feign a desire for freedom and independence, but central to our minds and actions is the need for human contact. Relationships drive our existence and it seems that everything we create is a response to the question of why we crave this connection with another person so badly. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the latest film from brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”) and director Michel Gondry (“Human Nature”), investigates the nature of human relationships in a rather unconventional manner.
“Eternal Sunshine” tells the story of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), a couple who endures a brutal breakup that results in Clementine having Joel completely erased from her mind through a new procedure offered by Lacuna Inc. Lacuna’s technology allows for the selective memory erasure of an individual, perhaps something that everyone desires at some point after a breakup. When Joel learns of Clementine’s rash actions, he decides that he too wants to undergo the procedure.
The film is told backward, in a manner similar to “Memento” or “Irreversible,” beginning with the hateful moments of Joel and Clementine’s breakup to their initial meeting that spawned a mostly happy relationship. Much of the story takes place in Joel’s head as he remembers his moments with Clementine and is forced to relive both the good and the bad. Through these memories, which may or may not be entirely subjective, Joel begins to realize that he doesn’t want to lose Clementine, and he tries to fight the erasure so that he may remember how much he loves her and win her back.
Because much of the film takes place in Joel’s subconscious, it is often difficult to assess whether the memories we are watching are truthful depictions of what actually occurred during Joel and Clementine’s relationship. There is the idea that all memories are subjective - we remember things how we want to remember them, and we can alter or interact with our memories at any time. The fact that much of the story unfolds within Joel’s mind also gives Kaufman the opportunity to play with Joel’s subconscious, similar to the way he played with John Malkovich’s mind in “Being John Malkovich.”
Like the protagonists in Kaufman’s other films, Joel again seems to be a reflection of Kaufman himself; he is withdrawn and quiet, but somewhere within him is the ability and the desire to love. Joel is played by Carrey, a man who has proved himself so often as a comic actor that even the image of his face has become funny to audiences. In this film, however, Carrey is not funny because the film is not really funny. In “The Truman Show,” in which Carrey first proved his abilities as a serious actor, the notion that the normally humorous Carrey was playing it straight was strikingly apparent. In “Eternal Sunshine,” on the other hand, the viewer does not look at Joel’s character with the same associations; Carrey melds into Joel so effortlessly that the audience is watching Joel, not Carrey.
Everything about this film hits home. The emotions are raw and visceral, and there is so much truth to every issue that Kaufman’s script offers. Although there is no technology that can erase our minds of past relationships, it is certain that we all rack our brains at the end of each relationship to figure out what we did wrong by reliving every moment. And every time, in the end, we are forced to question: Was it all worth it?
And normally, at the end of a relationship, after the tears and the heartbreak, we gather up all that we have learned and try to move on in a more productive and beneficial way. In this film, however, Joel and Clementine cannot learn anything because, if you don’t have your memories to teach you about your mistakes, won’t you just repeat the same mistakes in your next relationship?
When Joel is remembering how he met Clementine, he tells the Clementine in his mind, “I wish I’d done a lot of things.” When Clementine is completely erased from his mind seconds later, it becomes clear that Joel is destined to simply repeat his same actions; he will never be able to do the things he wishes he did because he won’t remember them.
To engage in another relationship with Clementine after the erasure would mean reliving the same relationship with no emotional growth and no new outlook to change the fate of the relationship. And for anyone who has pondered what it would be like to re-enter a lost relationship, this idea raises the question: Would you be willing to repeat all the bad moments in order to re-experience the good?
The answer of the film - and absolutely that of the viewer - is yes.