If you could wipe a tragic event from your life completely from your memory, would you? If you could wipe clean a tragic, abusive, or damaging relationship with someone clean from your mind, would you? If you, I, anyone had the chance, would we? I know I would, but the tragic picture painted here by the talented Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. While I just did not like the duo’s previous outing and my first introduction in to their abilities “Human Nature”, I did manage to find a lot to like in films like “Adaptation.,” and “Being John Malkovich.” Regardless, “Eternal Sunshine” might seem like a high concept confusing movie for the casual movie-goer who doesn’t want to think, but open your mind and watch this heartbreaking, often sad, and very surreal love story that will surely manage to play on many viewer’s vulnerabilities.
Of course this asks the question of free will and dares you to wonder, if you could erase a tragic memory from your mind, would you? But what Kaufman and Gondry do is explore the concept of freewill in the process and ask how much control do we really have over our mind, and inevitably the moral is that no matter how many memories we try to erase, store away, or block from our minds, our psyche does it’s own work and does not let us forget that our memories are a part of who we are, and we can’t escape that in the end. In this really fascinating study of love and tragedy, we meet Joel Baresh, a basically uptight man who ends up getting off at the wrong stop on the train on the way to work, and comes across a rather eye-catching woman, who makes it her prerogative to meet him and instantly they fall in love. The two are very much different and immense paradoxes and it becomes very evident to Joel once they meet. Joel could be described as desperate, but it’s more accurate to think of him as more of a tragic and somewhat lovelorn person seeking that perfect romance with the perfect woman whom he just can’t meet or come across.
“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” Joel contemplates as Clementine acknowledges him in a coffee shop. While Winslet’s character Clementine (one of the most memorable film characters in years) presents a more opposite nature. She’s lovelorn, but doesn’t really show it, and that attracts him despite their opposite nature. He’s a much laid back and humble man and she’s just aggressive and upfront and blunt, and they bear an instant attraction since they both basically discover they share a common trait. They’re nuts. And their relationship rockets with their chemistry in a great scene where the two discuss life on a train. But as their relationship progresses we then flash to the present where Joel gets a card that explains Clementine who he’s broken up with has erased him from her memory. In revenge, he does the same and later on, though without her memory, and without memory of her, he feels empty and suddenly discovers he really does want her memory however tragic it may be.
What’s very fascinating is that the two cross paths on more than one occasion, and though, none of them can explain it, they immediately once again have the attraction that they’d erased, instantly it’s the screenwriter’s hinting of the moral of the movie, but it becomes a lot more esoteric in its plot from there. As Joel begins getting his memories depleted yet again, he fights inside in a very cerebral direction of the movie and fights to keep Clementine inside him. This was a really good movie simply because it examines people, which Kaufman and Gondry are talented in. Human nature, human idiosyncrasies, human relationships and it truly is human in the way he both portrays the mind a person and spirit of a relationship gone totally wrong, because as we further delve in to the problems the relationship experienced, we learn what really happened and the movie takes a bittersweet turn, as we learn more and more about our characters, they become more than two people who fall in love, they become more and more human and the movie is played off well turning from comedy to drama halfway and the progression is very fluid and comfortable.
These two characters stop being characters and start becoming human beings. The movie also pulls off the excellent surrealistic visuals delving in to Joel’s mind as he confronts all the horrible memories with Clementine, only things get weirder and weird. I can’t explain to you some of the great visuals, it’s impossible, but they are really amazing. And as he struggles to keep Clementine in his mind, running back and forth between visuals, scenarios and scattered memories, three scientists work on him in his room. What emerges with the trio (Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo) ends up becoming very compelling and unexpected a sub-plot as we discover these people bear an unexpected and parallel connection to Joel and his emotions he just can’t fight. I won’t ruin it for you, but it ends up being one of the most heartbreaking and intriguing twists of the plot.
But as Joel further probes his own mind he finds it very difficult to distinguish what is real and what isn’t, and it all seems to come to a crushing ending that ends depending on the viewer’s interpretation. What the movie does excel in also manages to basically become it’s downfall and it all just basically loses me in the second half. With it’s high concept and very esoteric plot, I often times found it difficult to keep up with it, especially since it goes on too long and just loses me. For all the film has going for it, it’s basically overrated, and I just didn’t see the big deal in spite of what good it had. Gondry for all the style he emits within the film and seams of the plot, also managed to alienate the audience within the surrealism and utter chaos of the character Joel’s mind. The immense style is what ultimately becomes it’s downfall from perfection. It’s uninvolving especially during the second half of the film and I just couldn’t involve myself while relating with the characters.
The movie is very well acted by everyone on-screen including Jim Carrey who should have a damn Oscar by now. When is the Academy going to stop being tight asses and give Carrey an Oscar already? Carrey manages to convey both the tragic and comedic aspects of the character that we instantly relate to on many levels and he’s great here, not to mention Kate Winslet, a very under-exposed and utterly delicious actress who is often very talented, consuming the scenery and stealing the show in every movie she appears and does it here. Clementine despite the different interpretations of her character and personality presented on the screen that ultimately dictate what we think of her, does end up becoming one of the most interesting characters in film in a new age of forgettable movies (pun not intended), and Winslet gives a great performance. This is a wonderful, often beautiful, heart-wrenching story.