Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Focus Features presents a film directed by Michel Gondry. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (for language, some drug and sexual content). Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

What if we could remove someone from our memories? If we could erase every last detail about them from our subconscious? Would it be moral to tamper with someone's mind in any sense, even to destroy a painful memory? Or, even so, would it benefit us to destroy said memories?

These ideas are all on display in Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the the Spotless mind, easily one of the most orignal and brilliant motion pictures in recent memory (competition: Memento and Kaufman's own Being John Malkovich and Adaptation). But what makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than just a fascinating concept is that Kaufman and director Michel Gondry have used a wonderful and touching romance to explore their deeper ideas. What they have provided us is an exploration of human nature and emotions, a film about love and making it work.

The romance is between Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kim Winslet). Joel is shy and quiet, Clementine impulsive and needy; what would initially seem to keep them apart draws them together: Joel likes Clementine's energy, and he gives her a sense of security. But soon these differences come between them. Joel tires of Clementine's unpredictable emotions and a confrontation erupts. Clementine rushes out of the house, and soon after Joel sees the following letter:

"Clementine Kruczynski has had Joel Barish erased from her memory. Please never mention their relationship to her again. Thank you."

Joel is crushed. He goes to the place listed on the card, Lacuna Inc., to find out what's going on. He talks to Dr. Howard Mierzqwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who assures Joel that it is not a hoax, and that Clementine really has had him him erased from her mind. He rashly decides to follow suit and requests to have all memories of Clementine irradicated. But as the erasure is occurring, he decides he no longer wants to forget Clementine and attempts to counteract the procedure by hiding the memories of Clementine in the recesses of his subconscious.

The majority of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes place in Joel's mind as he and Clementine run from the procedure. It is in these scenes that Gondry's trademark visual flair (he hs directred music videos for Bjork and The White Stripes) is used to great effect. Stationary objects and backgrounds disappear mid-scene as Joel's memories are erased.

The rest of the film involves the Lacuna workers. One of the assistants working on Joel, Patrick (Elijah Wood), has taken Joel's memories and used them to get with Clementine. The other assistant, Stan (Mark Ruffalo), and his girlfriend, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), get stoned and dance around Joel in their underwear, effectively setting off Joel's rebellion. The secretary at Lacuna, Mary has a much larger arc to play out. Not to give anything away, but her actions form the emotional base of the denouement.

But while this is all good and well, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about one thing: the relationship between Joel and Clementine. We see them together briefly between the plot begins proper, and then we are given the details of their relationship in flashbacks. Despite their differences and imperfections, these are two characters we care about, and we want them to be together. As Joel slowly realizes that he will lose his memories of Clementine forever, the sense of loss is heartbreaking. The conclusion is honest and beautiful; this is the first time Kaufman has been able to keep the finale of one of his films up to the same level of the rest of the movie.

Anchoring the film are Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Carrey is cast utterly against type - here he is shy, quiet onee, and his is a performance of unbelievable range and depth, easily the best of his career. Winslet, flawlessly essaying an American accent, is pitch perfect. Clementine could be a grating or annoying character, but Winslet crafts her into a real yet flawed person. Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson (especially) are effective, but the supporting stand-out is Kirsten Dunst, in a touching, award-worthy performance.

Flat out, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an amazing motion picture, the first bona fide masterpiece of 2004, and the best film I've seen this year to date. I don't care whether it sounds appealing or not; go see it, and support brilliance with your dollars. You will not be disappointed, I guarantee it.

© 2004 Matt Noller