Friday, May 28, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

USA, 108 minutes
Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Photography: Ellen Kuras
Music: Jon Brion
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson

This high-concept blend of science fiction and romantic comedy works best, as you might expect and as is true for so many things, where it penetrates deepest to the complexities and maddening contradictions of the human heart, which it actually manages to do more often than one might think, given some of its handicaps. The motivating conceit involves a medical procedure that has been developed in which specific memories can be "erased"; the procedure has since come to be marketed as a way to cope with loss and grief. The facile analogy to antidepressants and stomach stapling is all over the place, up to and including the ubiquitous availability and use of it and the surprisingly casual way it's administered, with staff entering one's bedroom after one has fallen asleep and spending the night hovering over laptops parked at the foot of the bed. In fact, that latter point remains one of the movie's most intriguing and unsettling elements. Joel Barish (played by Jim Carrey) finds out that Clementine Kruczynski, the girlfriend with whom he just broke up (played by Kate Winslet), has recently opted for the procedure, and in a fit of pique decides to do so himself. The rest is a confusing and sometimes amazing interior exercise relating the experience itself of having the memories excised, mixed in with a couple of startlingly unpleasant storylines about the medical staff administering the treatment and a few trite observations along the way on the Tenacity of Love driving Joel and Clem. This is Jim Carrey in probably his best role, giving arguably his best performance, certainly as the serious actor he covets being like so many gifted comic actors, and sad to say he seems to me in way over his head. He tends toward overplaying the part of the self-involved twenty-something loser, in the end communicating more the actor's fear of blowing the role than the character's anxiety about blowing the terms of his life, and as a result he rarely seems even remotely likeable, or believable. For her part, Kate Winslet is great as always but she has little to work with opposite Carrey and often comes across as someone flailing against thin air. The best performance here may go to Kirsten Dunst in a relatively minor role as the receptionist at the clinic in love with the doctor. She is lovely and annoying and embarrassing and a little otherworldly as she takes on the airs of a callow poseur. Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and this, three films from two different directors, has managed all on his own to challenge auteurist ideas of filmmaking (to which I generally subscribe, let me hasten to add). I still haven't seen Synecdoche, New York, which Kaufman directed, or Gondry's Human Nature, which Kaufman wrote, but Eternal Sunshine, along with another look at Adaptation, makes me think there may actually not be as much "there" there to his work as first impressions made it seem. But it's certainly worth checking out.

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