“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the new film from music video director veteran Michel Gondry, attempts to warm the hearts of all those people convinced that love sucks. Written by mind-bending scribe Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich”), “Sunshine” navigates through the rocky and touching relationship history of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), two confused souls wandering through a gloomy not-so-distant future.
Seemingly a match made in hell, Joel exerts a quiet and conservative sensibility contrasted with Clem’s punky beauty and rash impulsiveness. The two meet at a beach party held by mutual friends (played by David Cross and Jane Adams) and their life together begins. They fall in love. Then it ends suddenly. We discover that some time has passed and Clementine has erased Joel from her memory through the groundbreaking medical services of Lacuna Enterprises, run by Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). Yes, erased him, washed him out of her mind. Remember, this is a Charlie Kaufman script.
Joel decides to do the same and through his erasure process conducted by Lacuna employees Stan (Mark Ruffalo), Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), he finds himself a character in his own subconsciousness, looking into the dark corners of his own mind and trying to outrun the erasure of his fondest memories. As Joel’s images of Clem are systematically eliminated, Kaufman and Gondry create stunning visual and audio cues that offer a harrowing comment on the fragility and repressive nature of Joel’s true self.
Ultimately, Joel and Clem want to erase their history with each other, washing away the seeds of a relationship gone south. But the film instills these characters with a natural attraction to contrast with the unnatural process Lacuna provides. Even when the two can’t remember each other, they still recognize the attraction. Throughout the film, Kaufman gives Carrey and Winslet countless scenes of enlightening dialogue that provide a window into this attraction. Also, Gondry consistently creates shape-shifting settings visually realized by cinematographer Ellen Kuras that properly convey the uneasy psychological space Joel must traverse in order to find his way home.
However, the big surprise of the film remains the lead performances. Carrey and Winslet aren’t just acting but partaking in a relationship experiment, dissecting moments of joy and pain down to the barest of parts, in order to understand how and why people love. The actors are given room to breathe and establish a chemistry unseen with major movie stars today. Hopefully people will remember these two come award season.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is, above all, a film of monumental emotional responses. The polar opposites of watching love begin and the pain of seeing it end are bookends in a film concerned with proving that all the experiences in the middle are most important.
Gondry and Kaufman, who have worked together before on the less impressive film “Human Nature,” have raised the bar for Hollywood filmmakers. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” displays everything that can be great about mainstream filmmaking: personal and heartfelt performances, dynamic and fantastic-looking cinematography and above all, utterly original writing that never insults its audience’s intelligence. Stop, take notice and don’t forget.