Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
|Tom Wilkinson||Dr. Howard Mierzwiak|
|Directed by||Michel Gondry|
Charlie Kaufman is one of a handful of screenwriters whose names can kindle interest in a movie, and I can't think right now who the others are. The Oscar-nominated creator of "Being John Malkovich" set the bar high with that brilliant debut screenplay, and after a sophomore-jinx misadventure with the poorly received "Human Nature", he has since delivered impressively with the George Clooney-directed Chuck Barris bio, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", and then "Adaptation", which netted him his second Best Screenplay nomination from the Academy. This one could earn him a third. Kaufman's laboratory in all of these efforts is the human mind, but in Eternal Sunshine he spills over into the human heart. The picture was inspired by French conceptual artist Pierre Bismuth's idea of handing out cards to people saying "You have been erased from the memory" of so-and-so, and then recording their reactions. (Bismuth, along with director Michel Gondry, shares story credit here with Kaufman.)
It's hard to know how much to say about this movie without giving away something that might compromise the head games Kaufman is playing. There are developments with which I had issues of logic, but you'll have to find your own. The movie starts in the middle, travels twenty minutes or so before arriving at the opening credits, doubles back on itself, jumps around in time, squirrels around in consciousness like a chile-fed nightmare, and plays as many tricks on its viewers as it does on its characters. Here's what can be fairly revealed. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) fall in love, but eventually her love grows cold and she leaves him. She leaves him good and proper. She has him erased from her consciousness, thanks to a little-known procedure developed by a Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) whereby targeted memories can be scrubbed from the mental screen. It's the sort of scientific breakthrough that one would expect might have gotten more press coverage, but Dr. Mierzwiak operates out of a dumpy little practice with a support team of characters you'd be more apt to find changing oil filters at a second rate garage in Queens.
When Joel learns what Clementine has done, he decides what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and visits Dr. Mierzwiak for a dose of the same medicine. "Is there any danger of brain damage?" he asks nervously. "Technically speaking," the doctor replies, "the procedure is brain damage ?but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking." This is inspired writing, and there's plenty more of it throughout. The procedure is carried out in Joel's apartment by Mierzwiak's team, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and his assistant Patrick (Elijah Wood). They hook him up to a computer with sensors attached to his temples to monitor the erasure of memory files from Joel's mental hard drive. The office receptionist, Mary (Kirsten Dunst) drops by for a little hanky panky with Stan. Conditions in the apartment degenerate into something almost as chaotic as what's going on inside Joel's head.
The character of Joel is an everyman sort, a sad sack who confides "I'm not that interesting. You should read my journal - it's just blank." He provides the kind of clown/Hamlet challenge that rubber-faced comic actors from Ed Wynn and Jerry Lewis to Robin Williams and Carrey have historically embraced to show that they can Act. These stretches often don't work, but Carrey manages pretty well in this case. Winslet is remarkable, losing the lovely Englishwoman completely in a Technicolor-haired Long Island hip-hop bookstore clerk. The cleverness of the movie is incontestable. It's a fascinating premise, well performed by a talented cast. But it loses its way at times, and sinks into periods of confusion and lethargy. The director, Michel Gondry, is a veteran of the music video world. It was Gondry who took down "Human Nature", the one cinematic memory Charlie Kaufman might want to have removed. I haven't seen it, but it's safe to say that he does a lot better here. But as good as many parts of Eternal Sunshine are, Gondry just doesn't seem equal to the totality of the vision.
The picture doesn't really connect on an emotional level. This is a serious shortcoming in a movie whose message is the power of love and the persistence of romantic memory. The movie has some valid things to say about love, but it says them without delivering them visceraly. Our investment in the eventual success or failure of the Joel-Clementine relationship is more in the head than the heart.
The title is taken from Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope, quoted (as "Pope Alexander") by the Bartlett's-obsessed Mary : "How happy is the blameless vestal's lot ! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind, Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd." Bartlett's actually includes only the first two lines in that entry. In another, it quotes another lovely couplet that speaks to the essence of this movie : "Oh name forever sad ! forever dear ! Still breath'd in sighs, still ushered with a tear." In other words, sometimes the pain of remembering is worth it.
© Text 2004 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be