Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Review
Charlie Kaufman is in no way a Hollywood screenwriter. He writes for himself which is maybe the best audience to target. He’s a brilliant writer who tackles the internal rather than the external…. But unfettered and unrestrained, his work can be cynical and depressing.
Michael Gondry is the perfect filter for Kaufman’s writing style. Hes one of the more distinctively artistic directors in film. His imaginative optimism counters Kaufman’s frankness. I read the original script and without Gondry this would have been far darker. The changes he made were for the better. Whereas Kaufman’s script ended on what I would consider tragedy, the film ends on a hopeful note. The film does have a hauntingly melancholy quality, but is never depressing.
Gondry also is a guy that keeps most of the FX in-camera. He only uses the CGI when absolutely he has to. He mostly foregoes the FX for his kind of artistry of hand made props and art.
The film is about a commercial artist that finds himself in a funk, almost like he’s missing something. He skips out on work to go to the beach and has no idea why he’s done that. While walking around the area he keeps seeing the kind of girl that he would like to meet, but doesn’t have the ability to strike up a conversation. He keeps seeing the same girl everywhere he goes and when they get on the same train together she strikes up a conversation with him. She’s aggressive. He’s timid. What starts out a little shakey between them ends up with him giving her a ride home. They both seem to be out of sorts, but they very quickly realize there is something between them.
From there the movie begins to wrap back around itself. It goes forward, then takes a steady trek backward before moving forwards again. I don’t think I can say anymore without ruining it for those who have not seen it. The film has a low tech sci-fi tilt, but that’s not really what the film is about, but as I said I won’t spoil it.
I think it is one of the best films about a relationship and the perception of that relationship by the participants that I’ve ever seen. The viewer literally goes into the mind and memories of the protagonist as he remembers the ‘Meet Cute’ moment, the highlights, the arguments, the breakup and the attempt at making up and all of the complications in between. It does look with a far more introspective eye than you’ll find in most other films about relationships. It’s poignant and profound and will leave you thinking about the film long after it’s over. Not many films do that for me.
Gondry does capture the ethereal quality of memories… The things you can’t quite remember… Things that you’ve forgotten… As well as the highlights and heartbreak of loving someone. You have to watch the film a few times to appreciate the level of detailing in the film.
It obviously has a great collection of actors. Not just the leads, either. Wilkinson and Ruffalo are especially noteworthy. A story could have easily been written around one of their characters.
Carrey and Winslet are brilliant playing counter to their usual onscreen personas. Carrey plays the quiet, serious one and Winslet is the erratically unpredictable character. It’s shocking that Carrey was not even nominated for an Oscar for this. He reigns himself in and hits all the right notes in this as an introvert. The film itself was easily better than the overhyped, vastly overrated Million Dollar Baby that year (see my ‘Worst’ List that year. Winslet, who is endearingly flawed in Eternal Sunshine, lost to Hilary Swank who spoke with one of the worst accents ever portrayed onscreen, but I digress.
This was my #1 film for 2004. Its in my Top 3 for the 21st century (but its still only the second best film Kaufman is attached to this century). GREAT film and this one gets my highest recommendation. A movie truly worthy of 5 stars… Or 5 whatevers.
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d…
-Alexander Pope ( from “Eloisa to Abelard”)