Netflix Finds - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


A Netflix Finds Review

5 Stars

Perhaps it’s a little bit unfair to review a film that’s already quite adored by the public. On the one hand, anyone who has not seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind must be an anti-indie film sadist, or a detractor of the film’s essence due to it’s considerable hype. For me, it’s something I’ve been meaning to get around to, and figured my return to the website contributions would be much grander if I chose one of the most beloved films of the 21st century.

To his credit, Charlie Kaufman is somewhat of a genius. With the exception of his last film Synechdoche, NY he has an almost flawless filmography. His creative writing style incorporates a variety of themes that he seamlessly meshes into one non-linear narrative in Sunshine.

What begins as a straightforward “boy meets girl” quickly progresses to a time changing, mind altering experience. Jim Carrey plays Joel, a squirmy man who catches the eye of Clementine (Kate Winslet). Sparks don’t necessarily fly, as not every romance begins like the rom-coms lead you to believe. A very strong attraction develops, but nothing surface wise, it runs deeper than that for these two. At the heart of Kaufman’s script is a very real, widely believed notion, that each individual has one or possibly multiple soulmates. Clem and Joel feel strongly compelled to be together, as if some unknown force is pushing them together. Call it fate if you want, but for these two struggling lovers, it’s scientific.

One thing Kaufman does well is develop his protagonists. Clem and Joel are two halves of the same whole. As with most relationships there is obvious strife and turmoil at intermittent times. But under every layer of chaos there’s a purity that feels too natural. This is why the hell they endure is so real to us.

The narrative is non-linear due to the plot centering around Lacuna Inc.’s breakthrough process to erase individuals from memory. When a loved one is lost, to remove the pain of their departure, the mourning will pay for the procedure and never worry about it again because that memory is gone.

It’s science-fiction drama, a genre that we so rarely get treated with these days. Eternal Sunshine ranks up there with Solaris in regards to his powerful intent, and successful delivery. The film begins with a great “first date” for Clem and Joel who spend the evening out, staying up late and laying on ice lakes. It isn’t until he drops her off in the morning and Elijiah Wood’s Patrick, who seems very surprised to see Joel sitting outside of Clem’s apartment, that you realize you’ve entered the true story at the very end.

Both Clem and Joel have impulsively erased the other from their own minds. What follows is an extravagant exploration through one’s mind, and the process of deleting a memory. It sounds heavy, and it is. While we navigate through Joel’s mind, Kaufman’s touch is never more present. It’s almost an id like approach to filming - typically a method that gets a lot of criticism, but here it’s extremely effective. A modern masterpiece of filmmaking but also of writing, Sunshine preys upon our desire to let go of the bad.

It’s also one of the best depictions of pain I’ve ever seen. We follow Joel’s pain more than Clem’s, but her pain is always present. There’s no right and wrong side of the relationship, no guilty party. It’s friction that breaks the two apart, and it’s pain that drives Clem to get the procedure done. A majority of the story takes place as the memories are being erased by Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst from Joel’s mind. Almost Total Recall in it’s set up, Lacuna Inc.’s employees try their best to erase Joel’s memories while he sleeps, but somewhere along the line his mind fights back.

As the memories begin to struggle in coherency, Kaufman’s narrative takes flight. With multiple events splicing together - ranging from the first time they met, to the last time they saw each other - Joel’s mind begins to bend in ways he never wanted it to. He reflects back on the painful aspects of their relationship which proves to be impossible to avoid. Kaufman purposely shows the negative first, in an attempt to eliminate sides in this break up. And the fight becomes even more intense as the memories start to realize they are being erased, which causes a disruption in Lacuna’s methods.

To watch Eternal Sunshine for the first time, is to truly watch the most creatively romantic film in recent memory. It’s bold, which is something the audience often refuses to interact with. But its a truly rewarding experience. Kaufman stabs the audience in the heart and twists. Joel’s very real pain is something we’ve all felt before, and the powerful memories that are ripping in front of him are just as powerful. I can’t help but empathize with Joel, the negative moments of Clem that seems so specific but general at the same time.

Kaufman won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it was well deserved. Sunshine is a complex roller coaster of pain and join, an all too original take on the oldest story of our time. Carrey and Winslet are perfectly cast and deliver their best performances ever. Nothing in Sunshine seems forced, not even the subplot of Mary (Dunst) and her previous affairs plays a part in the overall theme of love and separation.

Sunshine is a masterpiece, Kaufman’s finest hour. A mind bending romance that punches an extraordinary sincerity that is never shallow and never overdone. Joel’s anguish as the memories are erased is heart wrenching, his screams into the cold aired sky, are a reminder of true pain. No torture porn fare, or sappy Jennifer Garner crap-heap can truly pinpoint what pain is, and perhaps Sunshine won’t do it for everyone, but it’s an adventure of the mind that even with Lacuna Inc.’s help you would never forget.

Film Details

Netflix Finds - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindMPAA Rating: R for language, some drug and sexual content.
108 mins.
: Michel Gondry
: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jim Carrey; Kate Winslet; Gerry Robert Byrne; Elijah Wood; Mark Ruffalo
Genre: Drama | Romance
I already forget how I used to feel about you.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss."
Focus Features
Theatrical Release Date:
March 19, 2004
Link to Netflix:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Synopsis: Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) meet for the first time on a train, but is it their first meeting? How do you deal with somebody you wish you never met, have them erased.