Monday, 11 January 2016

Elwood's Essentials #13 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director: Michel Gondry
Released: 2004
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson

Plot: When Joel (Carrey) discovers that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet) has had her memories of him erased via Lacuna, Inc. he undergoes the treatment himself to remove his memories of their relationship only to soon find himself wanting to hold onto his memories of her and attempting to hide the subliminal Clementine within his own memories as a unique chase soon begins to unfold.

Review: Occasionally as a avid movie watcher you will encounter a film which for one reason or another seemingly hits you on a deeper level, making the experience take on a whole new level. It’s something that has only happened a few times with Donnie Darko, Southland Tales and A Clockwork Orange all providing this kind of viewing experience, to the point where I can still remember every detail about those initial viewings.  The same thing would also happen during the opening to this film as Joel suddenly decides to blow off work and take the train to Montauk, while her reels off his thoughts as a voice over from the random such as critising sand for being “Just tiny rocks” to suddenly hitting on two thoughts which hit me hard

“Random thoughts for Valentine’s day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

And it was these two quotes which made me suddenly realise that I had found in this film a kindred spirit,  knowing in the back of mind that no matter what happened next I would love this film forever.  Thankfully the rest of the film is just as great as this opening with the perfect storm of the visually driven director Michel Gondry and the highly unique writing of Charlie Kaufman with this film being their second time collaborating after the hit and miss “Human Nature”.

Being a Kaufman script it should come as little surprise that the films narrative is less than traditional, with the opening introduction of Joel and Clementine whose mismatched personalities somehow gel together into a believable relationship not that we get to enjoy it for long as we cut to a post break up Joel struggling to deal with the fallout from their break up while more confusingly why she suddenly doesn’t seem to remember who he is. Needless to say it’s a disorientating style of plotting, but Gondry trusts enough in his audience not to baby them through the film as he throws out bursts of information along with a heavy dose of his visual styling and leaves the viewer to piece it all together.

While the lead up to Joel undergoing the treatment might be confusing its none the less of a rough ride once we get into his memories as we are confronted with the bitter end of his breakup as these two characters we see falling in love now seemingly can’t stand a thing about each other. As each of these memories are deleted though we inevitably come to the turning point in the relationship when things weren’t so bad and it’s this sudden realisation on Joel’s part where the films emotional centre lies especially as Joel now realises that he’s not ready to give her up. The added twist here though are the frequent cuts back to the real world as Lacuna technicians Stan (Ruffalo) and Patrick (Wood) carry out their work and as Joel decides to go on the run in his own memories struggles to delete the memories of Clementine he’s attempting to save, especially as his body remains paralysed while undergoing the treatment.  

While these two plots would be perfectly sufficient for the film to be an intresting and unique film, we also get another and more creepy aspect added with Patrick attempting to seduce Clementine using her deleted memories of her relationship with Joel with little regard for the ethics of doing such a thing. This role being the start of a chain of interesting roles for Wood who at this point was coming off his lead role in “The Lord of the Rings” and here really manages to tap into a surprisingly creepy side while equally happy to brag about his involvement with her to Stan and makes for an interesting antagonist of sorts for Joel as he constantly tries to figure out who he is from the fragments of memories of him he has.

Perhaps because Gondry is such a visually driven director that the film is almost too perfectly suited for him, as here he shows scenery rapidly disappearing as memories are deleted, while using visual trickery to shrink Carrey without the use of CGI as seen during the scene in which Joel hides out in his childhood memory of hiding under the table while Clementine remains fully grown as she takes on the role of his mother’s friend. Its also during these diversions into his childhood memories or when memories start merging into each other that the film is at its most arresting and memorable.

At the same time the films characters are as equally memorable and intresting as the visuals happening around them be it the free spirited Clementine whose introduction is her voicing her desire to have the job naming hair dye such creative names as “Agent Orange”. Joel on the other hand while depressed and withdrawn when we first meet him, soon starts to show a variety of levels throughout the film including a fun and creative side that Clementine brings out in him, with Carrey playing it largely serious once more, yet somehow still manging to work in some of his natural clowning abilities. However the person seemingly have the most fun here is Winslet, who shugs off her usual well-spoken persona and embraces an anarchic side not seen from her since “Heavenly Creatures” and one which perfectly gels with Carrey despite the unusual pairing and making me wish that they would team up together more often.

Unquestionably this is a highly unique film and the kind which seems to be sadly increasingly a rarity in these times were studios are favouring tentpole and prestige pictures over the risks of more imaginative and creative works. At the same time this remains currently the high water mark for Gondry who while certainly none the less creative with the films which he has made following this has yet to produce anything which has come close to matching the surprisingly emotional yet entertaining trip that he takes us on here.

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