Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - 2004
Director(s): Michel Gondry
Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman
Cinematography by: Ellen Kuras
Editor(s): Valdís Óskarsdóttir
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson
There are very few creators in Hollywood that cannot be pinned down by a style of a genre. Even if they were to dabble in other realms of cinema, they are often recognized by the audience like "the one that does horror" or "action," for example. However, when trying to put Kaufman into context one finds itself grasping for straws with the nearest being absurdism, but even that is not a genre that can encapsulate the body of his work accurately. This led to his entire filmography being an exploration of the deconstruction of Hollywood norms, and a dedication to always push the boundaries on how one can tell the same story as many writers that came before him, yet it feels completely and utterly new. With that said, how about we tackle what a romantic film looks like through Kaufman's eyes - 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The story follows Joel's (Carrey) and Clementine's (Winslet) rocky relationship. Joel is a shy, soft-spoken individual and Clementine is a brash, free-spirit that is always looking for an adventure. When their relationship sours, Joel finds out that Clementine has erased him from her memories, and he decides to get the procedure done as well. Something goes wrong during the procedure, and Joel is fully conscious of what is happening, finding himself regretting the decision and fighting to keep Clementine alive in his memories. Kaufman's script plays out in a matter that it would be unfair to describe it as anything other than a labyrinth of emotions and existential crises. The procedure works backward, erasing the earliest memory Joel has with, and we get a glimpse into their relationship and what made them work and ultimately fail. However, by starting in the "worst" point of the relationship and working backward to the good times they shared, Joel realizes the fault in his plan, that he wants to keep the happiness and the hope she brought to his life. Kaufman's play on "Tis better to have loved and lost. Than never to have loved at all", and the sense of destiny in romantic films, as they meet and fall for eachother after the procedure, is beautifully done and it never comes across as heavy-handed as it would typically do with this type of film.
The use of practical effects helped to create this surreal world we are inhabiting inside of Joel's mind. We shift from memory to memory, and we bounce from past to present without a single missed bit, the editing by Óskarsdóttir is breathtakingly incredible. We are taking by the hand, and we jump from location to location with such an effort that you accept this as your reality and embrace the ride. Gondry brilliantly shots the sequence when Joel takes Clementine to his childhood memories.
The cinematography of Kuras also helps to sell this world that is disappearing in front of Joel's eyes. The sequence of the beach house always stays with me for days, no matter the times I've watched the film. The use of lighting, on Joel and Clementine, the realization of the end he brought on himself is hauntingly beautiful. Kuras also used color to represent the light Clementine brings to Joel's world. The opening sequence is grey, gloomy and ugly - all but one bright spot of colored hair that grabs Joel's attention.
Jim Carrey as Joel is one of his better dramatic performances, up there with The Truman Show. What I loved about his performance is that you can see him physically holding back his raw feelings and emotions, rarely letting them boil over and that yearning to feel is what ties him so profoundly to Clementine - the one person that brought it all to the surface. Kate Winslet's energy is infectious, and you can see why someone would be immediately attracted to it, and how it can also be the source of frustration for an introvert like Joel. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo had fun dancing in their underwear, and Elijah Wood is unsettlingly creepy as the lab assistant.
Kaufman seems to be fixated with exploring the human mind, and how it ultimately defines us and our experiences. By deconstructing the romantic movie genre, Kaufman helps the audience accept the world being presented and the brother ideas of love, destiny, and loss. The incredible writing of Kaufman is elevated by the excellent team behind the camera of Gondry, Kuras, and Óskarsdóttir, and is brought home by its stars in front of the camera. This is one of the best films I have ever seen, and the representation of love, real love, and how it is not finding the perfect person - but the person you want despite its flaws always hits home for me. It is currently on Netflix - watch it!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is Why I Love Movie.
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