Director Michael Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman reunite for what is perhaps the most interesting film of the decade in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although Gondry and Kaufman once collaborated in the 2001 film Human Nature, it isn’t until Eternal Sunshine that the two truly shine together. The film is a perfect example of true creativity and spends every moment adding layer after layer of complexity, surrealism, and romance.
Jim Carrey stars as a mild-mannered writer named Joel Barish who mysteriously awakes to many strange things (such as a dent in his car, years of missing journal entries, and the unusual desire to travel to Montauk, New York). On a train ride to Montauk, Joel meets an interesting girl named Clementine (played by Kate Winslet). The two quickly overcome an awkward introduction that is soon followed by a trip to a frozen lake where a beautiful moment of star-gazing takes place. Although unknown to the two newfound lovers, they had actually been in a relationship for two years.
It is revealed that Clementine, unsatisfied with her and Joel’s relationship, had him erased from her memories with the help of Lacuna Inc., an experimental medical firm that has developed a procedure making it possible to erase all memories of an individual. Once Joel discovers this, he too wants the procedure done so that he can forget Clementine. The majority of the film takes place in Joel’s mind, where the audience sees Clementine being erased from his brain, one memory at a time. Unfortunately, the procedure begins by erasing all the memories from newest to oldest, allowing Joel to fall in love all over again as each memory becomes more happy and romantic. In fear of losing all memory of Clementine, Joel must hide her deep into his memory, all the while running away from the erasure process.
Jim Carrey delivers one of the best performances of his career that further exemplifies his talents as a dramatic actor. His character is soft-spoken, intelligent, and a bit awkward, which is a perfect foil to Winslet’s Clementine, who is spontaneous, hot-tempered, and damaged. Although the two are portrayed as opposites, it is hard to imagine them with anyone else. When they are happy the audience is overjoyed, when they are sad, the audience is in turmoil, when they fall in love the audience feels the warmth. The chemistry that Carrey and Winslet share strengthens the emotional depths the film plunges into.
Gondry was best known for directing music videos and perhaps that is why the film feels so unique. There are several beautiful moments when Joel and Clementine are running on a beach that is covered with snow, providing a strange mixture of both cold and warmth that unknowingly churns the emotions of whoever is watching. There are many other moments that just feel, surreal, almost hypnotic, which just so happens to be one of the most romantic aspects of the film. It captures what it feels like to be in love, a bit confusing, but also beautiful.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its ability to feel every aspect of love, from true bliss to overwhelming heartache. Joel’s latest memory of Clementine is a fight that makes the audience question how these two manged to stay together at all, but slowly blossoms back into a romance that the two once shared. Although the two had each other erased, they still found their way back to one another, as evident in the opening scene of the film. This is echoed by another character in the film who had also had the procedure. What Kaufman is illustrating is that no matter how hard we try to forget love, we will continuously be drawn back to it, no matter how hard we try.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film that perfectly captures both joy and heartbreak. It’s a film that can remind us to look back at our memories with fondness and to treasure them forever. With a talented cast, unique direction, and beautiful writing, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the best films of the decade, if not all time.