Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

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.
(Eloisa to Abelard - Alexander Pope)

The premise for the film is a simple one: imagine if there were a scientific procedure that could remove your memories of specific people. Clementine (Kate Winslet) decides to undergo this process to remove her memories of Joel (Jim Carrey), with whom she has just painfully broken up.

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Joel, on finding out that he's been deleted, seeks revenge and arranges for the same clinic to delete his memories of Clementine.

"Is there any risk of brain damage?" he asks.

"Well, technically the process is brain damage," the doctor (Tom Wilkinson) replies.

The treatment begins and as they are deleted, we watch Joel's memories of the relationship in reverse, from the painful break-up back to happier times. However, he is not quite unconscious while this is happening, so the scenes have a unique dream-like quality, as he comments on what is happening and uses his imagination to change details.

Gradually, he realises that the good memories of Clementine outweigh the bad, but he can't stop the procedure, so instead tries to defeat it by hiding memories, dragging her out of scenes and inserting her into deeply repressed, unrelated memories, such as when his mother discovered her son's mind wasn't quite spotless.

It sounds confusing, and it is at first, but the chronology is quite clear once you grasp the film's logic. The screenplay is another triumph from Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), displaying all the craft and ingenuity of his previous work, but with a new level of emotional depth.

Despite all the twists and turns, the film is primarily a love story and centres on the double-edged nature of attraction. Joel and Clementine are drawn together because he is introverted and she is wild, yet over time these qualities lose their charm and they find each other boring and needy respectively. In the end, the film asks: are the good times worth the bitter fallout?

Director Michel Gondry deserves all the plaudits he will receive, both for the magical realist cinematography and the wonderfully low-key ensemble, in which Carrey and Winslet shine.

Eternal Sunshine is a rare treat, a film whose visual and narrative flair seems to redefine the possibilities of the medium, but which, nonetheless, rigidly focuses on storytelling and character.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2004
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An ex-couple delete each other from their memories after a painful split.
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Read more Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jane Adams, David Cross

Year: 2004

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Karlovy 2014

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Being John Malkovich