I recently watched the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for the second time, and it made a strong impression on me, as it did the first time. I thought I’d write about it for those interested. There may be some spoilers here, so be warned.
This movie tells the story of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) who meet and hit it off, only to discover that they have a history together which neither remembers. Clementine has had Joel removed from her memory, and in a fit of grief, Joel elects to have his memories of her erased as well. However, as the procedure begins, Joel relives the memories as they are being stripped away, and he realizes that the memories of their time together are worth more than the removal of the pain of separation.
This movie, written by Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” among others) proves to be a unique and well-constructed tale, showing a love story in reverse, beginning with the tension and breakup and moving backwards to the idealism and romance of the early relationship. Much of the movie takes place within the decaying memories in Joel’s mind, and the surreal deconstruction of the scenes as the memories are erased is poignantly depicted by the crumbling landscape and structures, and the removal of characters.
Jim Carrey plays a role in this less like those of “Ace Ventura” or “The Mask,” and more like “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon.” There is certainly a lot to laugh at in this movie, but it is no slapstick. Carrey is believable and sympathetic as Joel, and his struggle to protect his memories leaves the viewer feeling the loss as he does. Kate Winslet, as the spontaneous and outgoing Clementine and Joel’s memory of her, is the outrageous character, often playing off Carrey as the “straight man.”
In the end, this is a love story, and seems to lend truth to the old adage, “It is better to have loved and lost, then never loved at all” by showing the enrichment of Joel’s life through Clementine. He becomes willing to accept the pain of the loss if it comes with the joy of love, even for a short while. By the end of the movie, the couple know the ugly truth, and that their relationship had failed previously, yet proceeds (almost) anew, even though they expect it will end badly as before.
On the negative side, Joel and Clementine seem to be resigned to the fate of their doomed relationship, “nobly” facing it to wrest whatever pleasure can be had before it is over. There does not seem to be any effort or resolution to try to change or learn from past mistakes. One hopes that this will happen, but the cynical indication is that these characters are not even capable of change.
Overall, I rate this move 4 out of 5 stars.