Movie Review


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Production Company: Focus
Director: Michel Gondry
Principals: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson
Rating: R (language, some drug and sexual content)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMCom) -- Screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann (Being John Malkovitch, Adaptation), director Michel Gondry and star Jim Carrey have combined their unique talents to bring us a wildly imaginative film that defies your expectation or any easy description. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a sometimes funny, sometimes spooky, science fiction, romantic-comedy that will keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering, "I wonder what will happen before?" And if you thought I should have said "next" instead of "before," that’s just another way the movie keeps you guessing-the story runs backwards.

The slightly-shifty doctor (Tom Wilkinson) explains to Joel (Jim Carrey) that the procedure to forget his ex-girlfriend is "literally brain-damage, but no worse than a night of heavy drinking."
Meet Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), estranged ex-lovers, so embittered by their failed romance that they take extreme measures to move-on. First, Clementine, and then Joel, literally have all memories of their relationship wiped clean from their minds. The procedure is described by the slightly shifty doctor (Tom Wilkinson) as "literally brain-damage, but no worse than a night of heavy drinking." The procedure moves backwards, erasing the most recent memories first, and moving back until, finally, the very first memory is eradicated.

Joel agrees to the procedure, deeply angered and hurt by the blank stare of the newly erased Clementine, whom he runs into at a bookstore. After all, how could she leave him, and worse yet, how could she choose to remove all traces of him from her memory? But once Joel is anesthetized, and the procedure starts, Joel regresses to the earlier, happier memories of Clementine and realizes that he’s made a terrible mistake and wants to stop. This is where things get really interesting, and seriously off-kilter. As Joel fights the procedure and tries to regain consciousness, the present and the past begin to get scrambled and the film takes wildly imaginative flights of fantasy through the embattled landscape of his psyche.

Joel learns to resist the procedure just enough so he can not only mentally evade mind cleaning efforts, but also converse with Clementine (Kate Winslet).
Joel learns to resist the procedure just enough so that he can not only mentally evade their "mind cleaning" efforts, but also converse with the Clementine in his memory and convinces her to retreat with him deeper into his mind to try to save his remaining memories of her. What follows is a literally mind-bending cat-and-mouse game, as the still-unconscious Joel and memory-only Clementine hide from the medical team, who are trying desperately, and hilariously, to wipe them out. The rest of the film is hard to describe, and to try would give too much away, but out of this surrealistic parlor-trick of a film, comes a flood of keen observations about love, relationships, memory and modern life.

The film grapples with our "disposable" society, introducing us to disposable experiences and disposable memories. Don’t like the way a relationship has worked out? Can’t cope with the loss of a pet or the memory of a terrible event? Just throw it away and erase it from your mind! But as Joel learned, our life is guided by our memories, and our personal growth-who we are and what we will become-is a combination of both the good and the bad life experiences. We also see that when a good relationship becomes a little "stale" or too comfortable, as theirs had, the memory of better times can rekindle something fresh that appeared to be lost.

Joel learns that some relationships cannot be erased, but must be resolved.
In his most restrained and believable performance yet, Carrey captures the entire gamut of Joel’s emotions: his regret over choices made and careless things said, his growing desperation to save what little of Clementine remains in his mind, and his growing realization that even if he no longer loves her, or what their relationship had become, he could still love his memories of her. He also learns that some relationships cannot be erased, but must be resolved, and through his own mental conversations with his memory of Clementine, a wistful closure is attained, even as his memory of her fades.

When Joel and Clementine are down to reliving one final, rapidly fading memory-ironically, the day they first met-she plaintively asks, "What should we do?" Joel replies, "Enjoy it." He has realized something we all should, that our time on this earth, with those we love, is fleeting and should be cherished and held dear in memory. As J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan said, "God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December." Words to live by, and reason enough to go see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.

This article was developed by, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

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