by Allan Fish
(USA 2004 108m) DVD1/2
O my darlin’, o my darlin’…
p Steve Golin, Anthony Bregman d Michel Gondry w Charlie Kaufman ph Ellen Kuras ed Valdis Oskarsdottir m Jon Brion art Dan Leigh cos Melissa Toth
Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Svevo), Mark Ruffalo (Stan), Elijah Wood (Patrick), Tom Wilkinson (Dr Howard Mierzwiak), Jane Adams (Carrie), David Cross (Rob),
If asked to name the most flat out inventive film of 1999, anyone who did not pick Being John Malkovich just cannot have seen it. The same might be said of Adaptation in 2002, another deliciously clever premise from cult author Charlie Kaufman, the one writer in movies today who could prove himself one of the greats in that capacity alone. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was lumbered with a title that hardly makes one rush to the box office, and hence it only performed moderately in takings, and like Kaufman’s earlier work, it is undoubtedly an acquired taste. For those willing to take the plunge, however, it’s the one essential romantic comedy of the modern cinema; a romantic film for anti-romantics, one for the age of sci-fi.
Joel Barish makes a decision not to go into work one morning and goes impulsively to Montauk, where he meets a young woman of very eccentric dress and hair sense called Clementine. Just at the point where they are about to get together, however, the narrative switches back in time and we find Joel devastated to find that his girlfriend, the very same Clementine, has not only dumped him but gone to a specialist clinic to literally have him removed from her mind. Hurt and distressed by this, Joel goes off to have the procedure done himself, only for him to change his mind during the procedure and try and keep Clementine’s memory sacred.
Elvis Mitchell famously referred to the film as like a Philip K.Dick Hallmark card, and one can see where he’s coming from. It’s undoubtedly confusing, leading to much scratching of the head, but this mental fog does clear in time for the viewer to be truly captivated by our hero’s predicament. Furthermore, on further viewings, you are able to take in the subtle intricacies of plot and throwaway lines and visuals. It has the fantastic quality of a dream, but ingeniously does not try to rationalise the insanity of the central situation, but rather runs with it as the audience breathlessly follows. As Joel seeks to hide Clementine in a portion of his memory where she doesn’t belong, such as his childhood, we come to realise not only how much he loves her but the memory of her. And if there’s a feeling that perhaps these people are not meant to be together, that’s irrelevant. This couple deserve a second chance, a chance denied to them by this invading procedure. The idea of such a procedure may look good on paper, but it can have a truly damaging effect. Just take the character of Dunst for example, rosy sunshine in adoration for Wilkinson throughout until she realises she, too, was a previous patient.
In truth, Eternal may not be the most accessible film in the list, by any stretch of the imagination, but it undoubtedly strikes a most touching chord. Visually alone it’s an astonishing experience, but it’s the emotional centre that gives it its heart. Carrey is quite wonderful as Joel, an eternal outsider, with his shirt collars worn one inside and one outside, and supremely tender and longing in the final moments before Clementine is finally erased. It’s a performance of such understated subtlety as to make you mourn that he isn’t given such opportunities often enough, while the ubiquitous Ruffalo, Dunst, Wilkinson and Wood (as a venal sick nerd – and worse was to come in Sin City – showing what three years carrying that blasted ring does to you) all impress, too. More than anything, however, it’s a showcase for Winslet, who relishes the opportunity to really let herself go, whether in the oddly romantic Honeymoon on Ice or in her offering drinks to Joel (“drink up, young man, it’ll make the whole seduction part less repugnant”) or in her continual self-analysis (“I’m a vindictive little bitch, truth be told”). In a film all about the power of remembrance, it contrives to be absolutely impossible to either forget, or want to.