Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Anyone who has loved and lost will identify with Joel Barish, a man undergoing the worst breakup of his life. Some people would turn to drink, others to reckless, casual sex, but Joel turns to the science fiction genius of Lacuna, a company that erases bad memories. Neat trick if it works, but what happens if something goes wrong?

Welcome to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a brave and audacious dark comedy from the mind of writer Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation,” “Being John Malkovich”). Kaufman loves playing mind games, and like the best of the time-shift movie genre (“Memento,” “21 Grams”), immediately draws us into the dreary world of Joel, played with sad, puppy dog eyes by Jim Carrey. Those expecting a madcap Carrey comedy should stay home and rent “Bruce Almighty.” Those looking for a film that challenges as much as it entertains will find “Eternal” one of the sharpest and smartest films out there.

Directed with a knowing sense of loss by Michel Gondry (“Human Nature”), “Eternal” isn’t a throwaway piece of popular entertainment. It demands much from its audience, asking them to sit back and enjoy the ride. The answers are there, you just have to wait for them.

It’s important that you don’t take anything at face value, and don’t assign judgment values to the characters until all is said and done. The brilliance of Kaufman’s script is that we’re never really sure where we are in the plot. The images we see at the beginning are actually pieces of a later puzzle. It’s only when the pieces begin to fall into place that we begin to understand where we and the characters stand.

Carrey embodies the spirit of a broken man lost in his memories. “Eternal” is his finest dramatic moment, and we instantly grasp his desperation and hurt. Even when we first meet him we suspect that Joel is damaged goods. He needs a diversion in his life, one he finds in the free spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet), a bookstore clerk whose inner spirit burns as bright as a lighthouse. Clementine is Joel’s double-edged sword. She’s not exactly his type, but he needs her to feel alive.

The cast is outstanding, including Kirsten Dunst as a Lacuna receptionist with a big crush on the company’s owner (Tom Wilkinson), but willing to sleep with the technician (Mark Ruffalo) sent to de-program Joel. Elijah Woods is pivotal as an opportunist who takes advantage of people’s erased memories. Smart, funny and honest in its emotions, “Eternal” should shine for a long time.

Mind Games

Sunshine recaptures memories of lost love


Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Michel Gondry. Rated R. 108 Minutes.


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