A Cinematic Ray of ‘Sunshine’

 

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Director:Michel Gondry,
Starring:Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Length:108 minutes
Rated:R

The fact that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is an ambitious, spellbinding and fascinating mind trip of a

5movie is not surprising when you consider that it was written by Charlie Kaufman, the imaginative screenwriter behind 1999’s eccentric “Being John Malkovich” and 2002’s multi-layered “Adaptation.” The fact that the film features what just may be the finest serious performance of Jim Carrey’s career is surprising, especially since it comes so soon after his manic, over-the-top turn in last year’s divine comedy “Bruce Almighty.”

That’s because for the first time since 1998’s “The Truman Show,” Carrey delivers a convincing dramatic performance without drawing too much attention to the fact that he’s giving a dramatic performance (like he did with 2001’s manipulative sap-fest “The Majestic”). Actually, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for a movie that’s sure to land on my “Best of” list at the end of 2004 (yes, I know the night is young, but I trust my instincts). Thanks to solid casting, a challenging structure and a provocative message, “Eternal Sunshine” is a cerebral, bizarre and ultimately rewarding cinematic experience that holds up under repeated viewings.7

When socially awkward Joel (Jim Carrey) discovers that his free-spirited girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) had their tumultuous relationship erased from her memory, he decides to go through the same procedure to have her erased from his memory. That’s easier said than done, and when Joel regrets his decision by trying to escape with his memories intact, he realizes that getting someone out of your head is a lot easier than getting her out of your heart.

Try to imagine what would happen if Charlie Kaufman penned a big screen version of a story by identity-challenging writer Philip K. Dick (“Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” “Paycheck”), and you get the idea of where “Eternal Sunshine” is going. As with his previous movies, Kaufman captures the chaotic beauty of an identity crisis from the mind’s point of view, but this time around, he also asks some life-affirming questions. Among them, if you knew that your passionate relationship was doomed to fail, would you still get involved? More importantly, what, if anything, would you do to change it?9

After missing the boat the first time around with Kaufman’s “Human Nature,” director Michel Gondry nails it with “Eternal Sunshine.” What follows is a love story that’s told in reverse, but with a trippy “Alice in Wonderland”-style sensibility to it. Joel’s more recent memories with Clementine are unpleasant, but the further back he goes, we see him try to hold onto the more pleasant memories while they quite literally disappear before our eyes. The process is fascinating to behold, and the non-linear structure is effectively pieced together like a cinematic Picasso painting.

Unfortunately, the film is not without it’s flaws. For one thing, Joel and Clementine are clearly incompatible together, but one still has to wonder what they saw in each other in the first place. In addition, Gondry’s cold, somber tone is a stark contrast to the film’s warm, passionate message, and the impressive centerpiece of the movie – the memory elimination sequence – drags on a little too long to the point of self-indulgence. (There is also a huge, gaping plot hole, but sadly, it cannot be revealed here without spoiling a key plot twist in the story.)11

Jim Carrey’s serious, understated performance is laced with comic undertones, which, to his credit, puts him in the same league as Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation.” It’s also refreshing to see the normally serious Kate Winslet play someone who is so impulsive and feisty, but she also injects her character with an ample amount of depth and insecurity (not to mention a rainbow’s choice of hair colors). Though the supporting cast is a bit underdeveloped, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson bring quirky effectiveness to the team of technicians erasing Carrey’s memory, while Kirsten Dunst brings her usual sexy vulnerability to her character’s surprising (and somewhat jolting) plot-turning developments.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” may not be for everybody (let’s face it, neither were “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”), but if you like sophisticated, ambiguous and riveting mind trips that will stay with you for days, then this one is for you. But more than anything, the film also serves as a reminder that from here on in, the sun will shine very bright on Jim Carrey’s career as a serious actor.