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Eternal Sunshine’ spins an emotional tale

Mary Squillace | Tuesday, April 27, 2004

In a market where films about relationships don’t typically entail anything deeper than a passionate kiss on a busy street corner while a Van Morrison song rises up, Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” provides a refreshingly inventive break from the norm. Though writer Charlie Kaufman has already proved himself as the master of the modern-day fantasy with original movies like “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” Kaufman turns a new corner with his most recent efforts, spinning an equally unique, but emotionally enriched story. Upon discovering that his former girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet) has, with the help of a team of skilled technicians, literally erased him from her memory, Joel (Jim Carrey) decides to go through the same process. However, as he undergoes the procedure and travels through memories of his failed relationship, Joel realizes he’s not quite ready to let go. As his memories slowly fade, Joel does everything within his power to dodge the effects of the procedure and reconcile with Clementine. Though the premise of the film is somewhat bizarre, its essence is rooted in reality. For this reason, it becomes a wonderfully poignant journey. Throughout the film, Kaufman maintains a very natural rhythm and flow of words. The dialogue between Joel and Clementine speaks particularly well to his audience, seeing as most people have experienced the ups and downs that come with being in a relationship. Stylistically, the look of the film meets the needs of this quirky narrative. The shot selection is particularly engaging, and plays-out like a moving surrealist painting. Gondry’s precise use of color and raw-looking camerawork both heighten the experience. However, because he makes rapid cuts and uses handheld shots consistently throughout the film, Gondry’s approach might be slightly jarring to some viewers. While the film’s cinematographic qualities are important, the success of the film hinges largely upon the actors’ abilities to draw the viewers into this fantasy. Fortunately, the cast, which include Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, and Mark Ruffalo, deliver high-quality performances. Typically, due to his notoriety as a comedic actor, it is very difficult to watch Jim Carrey and believe he’s anyone other than Jim Carrey. In previous attempts at serious roles, Carrey either slips into his characteristic over-the-top humorous dramatizations or comes off as being corny. However, under the careful direction of Gondry, Carrey finds subtlety for the first time. Consequently, he is surprisingly effective in his role as Joel. Kirsten Dunst proves to be another mediocre actor who rises to this occasion, which is probably more of a reflection on the writing and directing than on her abilities. Though she plays a fairly small role as one of the technicians, she avoids disturbing Kaufman’s carefully constructed fantasy world.Overall, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” provides a true flight of the imagination blended with a moving look at relationships. In addition, it is unlike any other film at the box office right now, and, considering the stream of dime-a-dozen big-budget actions that will invade our theaters within the next month, probably unlike anything that will grace us until the end of summer.