Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood
Directed by: Michel Gondry
I finally got around to seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night, and I'm really glad that I did. I kind of wanted to see in theatres, but never got around to it. In a way, I'm glad that I didn't see it until it came out on DVD, as some movies that are otherwise excellent just don't play as well on the big screen. Intimate movies require intimate settings. Since I don't get out to movies that often, I often go to a movie as much for the experience of going out as I do for film excellence, and thus like to feel good after leaving the theatre. It's not a must, as a good movie is worth the time no matter how it makes you feel, but quieter movies often don't allow for the night out experience unless you regularly frequent movies or your idea of a good night out is to watch a quiet, challenging movie.
For me, the perfect way to experience this movie was on my couch in a blackened living room after midnight, watching with my wife on our high definition widescreen TV, with the dts sound buzzing around us (I no longer need to go to theatres to experience good quality presentation or proper aspect ratios). The comfort of my home allowed me to easily digest and ponder the themes of the movie, perhaps allowing it to strike a much more personal chord than it would have at twenty feet tall. Watching movies at home has become the modern way to curl up with a good book, except that you can still share the experience with someone else without them reading over your shoulder.
A confession: I'm not a huge Charlie Kaufman fan. It's not that I don't like his movies, but I didn't see this movie because of his writing. Before Eternal Sunshine, the only other Kaufman movie I'd seen was Being John Malkovich, which I'd only seen recently. It was alright, but not a movie I'd ever watch again. I found it inventive and well acted, but it didn't strike a chord with me. What it lacks, and Eternal Sunshine has in abundance, is heart. I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters in Malkovich, except maybe Malkovich himself. But I could relate to the characters in Eternal Sunshine; I could understand their motivations and could relate to their struggles.
Most people have painful memories of relationships past that at one time or another wished could be wiped clean. "It's better to have loved and lost..." is all well and good, but when you're going through the gut wrenching pain of loss, sometimes it feels better to have never loved so that you can move on with your life. Before my catharsis known as Kim, I had just such memories, and were a service such as that which Lacuna offers in the film available, I may have availed myself of them. And thus I could relate to the characters and was easily able to accept the off-beat premise of the film.
But, even more resonate with me was Joel's (Jim Carrey) desire to hang on to the good memories as the movie progressed. This spoke to me more than anything in any movie I've seen all year. The only thing I can think of that would be worse than losing my wife would be to lose all memory of her as well. The memories we share are pretty much the most valuable possessions I have. Perhaps unintentionally, this sequence vividly (if strangely) reveals what it must be like for those affected with Alzheimer's, and other such illnesses. The emotional chord struck by the movie pretty much had me wrapped for the whole movie.
Besides that, it is a phenomenal beautiful movie with uniformly brilliant acting. The famed Kaufman creativity allows for some quirky and interesting characters, who manage to avoid being overly annoying or weird. Much of this is because as the movie progresses, the characters become more real, even as some of the events around them become more surreal. This is the opposite of Malkovich, whose characters barely reflect human beings near the end. I'm thrilled that Kate Winslet received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Clementine, an award I think she has a good chance of winning, especially if voters add her performance in Finding Neverland to this one for a cumulative vote.
Easily one of the best movies of the year, and one I think I'll be able to watch a hundred more times and not grow tired of. Along with Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most resonate films of the year for me.