Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is bizarre and brilliant at the same time, a rather strange and tenderly resonant film which I believe can only be achieved by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the man behind Being John Malkovich.
While I find Being John Malkovich quite astonishing, its oddity and strangeness — the probe in the interior of the mind — was not rationalized, but it works perfectly fine in Eternal Sunshine. It might be gleaned from the previews of the film that it would be a bouncy, beamish comedy yet again, but truly, it is a tender movie about love and romance. This is, for me, Jim Carrey’s best performance to date, and may open the eyes of his punters who have only imagined him as Ace Ventura and the eccentric Dick for his entire career. No snippy quotes, outrageous humor or bizarre antics in Eternal Sunshine, but just sheer brilliance — a true, realistic, three-dimensional character named Joel Barish, who plans to have memories of his lover Clementine erased by a company called Lacuna, after discovering that she, Clementine herself, has had the similar procedure performed only a week before. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, the owner of Lacuna, briefly informed Joel that the procedure, although technically brain damage, is just at par with a heavy night of drinking.
The entire deletion of memories is quite fascinating. All items relating to the person you want to be erased from your brain are assembled together, and the technicians at Lacuna would then “map” an outline of your memories which are supposedly interrelated. Although it is quite remotely possible that such procedure could have been actually performed, and the explanation behind it is simply bull, we just don’t care anymore because the whole process serves as a backdrop for a deeper meaning: If you could forget about past romances or events, would you really want to? And if so, would you be willing to sacrifice all the good memories at the expense of erasing the bad ones?
The conclusion that Eternal Sunshine wants to arrive at is as honest as it can be. During the procedure, Joel’s subconscious realizes that it doesn’t want to let go of its memories of Clementine, and so begins a strange labyrinth of fragmented memories, constantly changing surroundings, and mental materializations of Clementine. The movie is like a very bizarre dream, and you shout and try to get their attention but they don’t seem to notice.
There is a very profound message in Eternal Sunshine, and it is arguably Kaufman’s deepest film to date. Love and romance and memories of both have rarely been examined as thought-provokingly and tenderly as they are in this film. There are many small intricacies in this movie, surely picked up on more thoroughly repeated viewings, and the entire construction of the movie is completely enthralling and brilliant.
I think what the movie ultimately asks us after its long, emotional journey, is would we want our own memories erased? And if so, what would the consequences be? And are we brave and bold enough to endure these? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a beautiful film, eloquently voiced by Gondry, firmly constructed and rooted in an eerie nightmare-ish fantasy land where anything is possible.