Cast & Crew
Dr. Howard Mierzwiak
Produced by Anthony Bregman, David L. Bushell and
Steve Golin; Directed by Michel Gondry; Written
by Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman
Drama (US); 2004; Rated R for language, some drug
and sexual content; Running Time: 108 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
March 19, 2004
by DAVID KEYES
it comes to movie manipulation, Charlie Kaufman has turned
what should be a shameless gimmick into something of an
art form. Being referred to as the most absurd writer of
your generation would be enough of an declaration to undermine
the merit of even the most ambitious overachievers, but
this is a guy who seems to operate on levels that are immune
to criticism. That's because he is first and foremost a
visionary, an eccentric but focused man who, unlike countless
screenwriters who have tried (and failed) to spur thought
on the grounds of extreme silliness, uses the idea of absurdity
as a device rather than as a skeleton to drive a premise.
Subtract the obvious offbeat details, then, and what you
have underneath are generally thought-provoking but straightforward
stories. Don't agree? Then take a much closer look at either
"Being John Malkovich" or "Adaptation"
before you settle on that conclusion.
would be equally wise to approach Kaufman's latest endeavor,
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," with
those sentiments in hand. Directed by Michael Gondry, who
also stood behind the camera for the writer's 2001 project
"Human Nature," the movie is a bizarre collection
of unusual ideas, tugged along not only by a sweeping sense
of the unconventional, but by several traditional values
of movie romance as well. With none of Kaufman's quirks
in place, the premise echoes at least half of the most well-known
movie love stories of the past 50 years; add them back in,
and what you have is a seamless and rousing marriage of
the conventional and the unique. The result is a wonderful
little motion picture that perplexes and baffles the audience
almost as easy as it charms them.
movie stars Jim Carrey as Joel Barish, a man who, in the
opening shots, is rushing off to catch a train to work,
but is not completely sure he even wants to go to work that
day. On impulse, he simply opts to spend his time seeing
the countryside and doodling in his sketch book, a decision
that, by chance, leads him to meet the quirky and vivacious
Clementine (Kate Winslet), a girl whose biggest distinguishing
characteristic is her colorful hair. Their first encounter
is awkward but inspired; she makes the inevitable approach
just as he buries himself into his drawing, and they begin
to talk about meaningless little things, even though neither
of them seem to be very engaged or interested. They are
filled with immense discomfort, and yet the scenes don't
present the encounter as forced; even though adverse first
impressions are a given, they still eventually fall away
and reveal something poignant underneath. No matter how
uptight or defensive they may appear, both Clementine and
Joel are very infatuated with one another.
flash forward a few months or so (the movie doesn't specify
time, but we can make educated guesses using the material
we're given). Joel is a physical and emotional wreck, the
apparent result of Clementine abruptly walking out of his
life. The breakup wasn't exactly smooth, either; in fact,
as we learn shortly after the realization of a separation,
their last encounter consisted of her acting as if she didn't
even know who he was. The irony of this situation, though,
is that she really didn't know him. Why? According to Joel's
well-informed close friends, Joel's darling Clementine went
to a clinic and actually had all her memories of him wiped
out. Not believing what he is hearing, Joel decides to go
off and find this so-called establishment to get the information
for himself. When he discovers that she indeed did go through
with this bizarre medical therapy, he becomes increasingly
interested in its details and decides he should go through
the same treatment. In his mind, after all, what's the point
of holding onto memories of a loved one when that loved
one really doesn't exist anymore?
script utilizes this interior dilemma as a spring board
for all sorts of offbeat and hallucinatory narrative tools.
Not the least of which is an alternate reality that takes
place entirely in our protagonist's own mind; when he becomes
hooked up to the equipment that will wipe out all his memories
of Clementine, we see him relive important moments with
her just as the machines are removing them from his head.
In a visual sense, the approach of this device is brilliant;
Kaufman and Gondry succeed in creating the impression that
what we are seeing would probably parallel reality if such
a scenario were ever possible. What's also striking about
their approach is that it repeatedly acknowledges the natural
reactions of its main character; as Joel is going through
his memory bank and reevaluating everything he and Clementine
shared, he decides he doesn't want all of her erased from
him, even though the machines currently leave him no choice.
Needless to say, observing him as he tries to defeat the
therapy by displacing Clementine into alternate memories
result in some of the biggest chuckles you will have at
a movie all year.
film also boasts several notable supporting players. Consider
Howard (Tom Wilkinson), the doctor responsible for this
therapy that erases human memories; rather than being portrayed
as a wacky or overzealous man, as most writers would ordinarily
do when it comes to characters with inventive ideas, he
is comes off as your average guy who is simply doing his
job. That may not seem like much in terms of description,
but in a movie absorbed by so many unorthodox ideas, it
feels refreshing. Further merit is warranted to the character
Mary (Kirsten Dunst), a nurse of sorts who, along with her
boyfriend/co-worker Stan (Mark Ruffalo), go into a laugh-inducing
panic when they witnesses Joel deflecting the memory-erasing
therapy and don't know how to get him back on track. These
are effective moments because they broaden the scope of
the movie's focus; how characters handle their conflicts
on the outside edges of the plot is almost as wacky and
observant as how the main characters are handling things
on the inside.
movie's final trick is one to be treasured; not only does
it reveal and restructure the obvious plot line, it also
gives the audience a chance to reevaluate previous scenarios
with the new knowledge they have been graciously provided.
Of course, it also goes without saying that the final payoff
lies not in characters finding new love or moving on from
their current situations, but realizing where they have
come from and what they have done to arrive at such a point.
And the movie's ultimate message, although explained via
Kaufman's eccentric tangents, is universal: love is a bond
that no machine can break, and no matter how hard you may
try to erase the past, it may not make any difference if
you and your partner really are destined to be together.
Fine and dandy; just add in those signature Kaufman twists,
and what you have is one of the most infectious and engrossing
films of the year.
© 2004, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.