Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has had some success writing innovative and imaginative films. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is no exception to his past work, though it closely resembles storylines he has already written; perhaps too closely.
Kaufman is known for writing edgy screenplays for films like “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich.” The problem with this film is that it falls into the same category as most of his work, thus leaving the story feeling cliched. The saving grace is Jim Carey’s performance, which is his most promising work since Milos Forman’s “Man on the Moon.”
Carrey and actress Kate Winslet lead a powerful supporting cast through director Michel Gondry’s film about a man struggling to retain passionate memories of his ex-girlfriend after undergoing a procedure which serves to eradicate such desired memories.
After discovering she has had him erased from her memory, the anxious and jilted Joel Barish (Carrey) retaliates against his flakey ex-girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Winslet) by having her erased from his. Joel seeks the assistance of Lacuna Inc., the eerie company which conducts memory erasing.
Ironically, it is during the erasing process where Joel wants to abort the procedure and retain the memories of his and Clementine’s relationship.
The film takes place in two settings: the conscious world where a medical team from Lacuna (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood) track memories of Clementine and erase them, and inside Joel’s mind, where he struggles to hide Clementine from Lacuna in his repressed memories.
When Joel begins to subconsciously fight the Lacuna crew, his thoughts disappear from their tracking system and can only be found by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the head physician at Lacuna Inc. The storyline outside of Joel’s mind is almost as in-depth and interesting as the one taking place within it.
The fascinating part of this film is that it works backwards; eliminating memories of Clementine from the time she and Joel broke up to the moments where they first met and fell in love. In this manner, the film takes on elements of surprise and predictability at the same time.
The contrasting personalities of Joel and Clementine seem doomed from the beginning. Watching their story progress backwards makes you understand the dysfunction of their relationship, and leaves you wanting to see these two people, who were so deeply affected by one another, together in the end.
It is an interesting and enjoyable film, but at times, seems like Kaufman is trying to duplicate the success of “Being John Malkovich” by copying some of its themes, such as the probing of Joel’s mind and the juxtaposed consequences on his life. Regardless, it is a success.
Though this film may not be for people in search of a thoroughbred comedy, drama, or romance, audiences will experience a kaleidoscopic story that is truly memorable.