‘Mind’ shines

Ted Pigeon

It’s not often that cinema multiplexes are graced with films of true brilliance at this time of year. But every now and then, during this normally dry period for theatrical releases, there comes a film full of creation, energy and originality. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a film that contains all of those things and much more. Both surreal and sublime, this is a rare film that takes us on an amazing visual journey through a man’s memory while telling an honest and deeply moving story.

The movie opens with the inner thoughts and daily routine of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a lonely and somewhat compulsive man so tired by the procedure of day-to-day life that he decides to ditch work and get on a different train whose destination is unknown to him. On this train he meets an eccentric woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet), who seems to be almost his complete opposite. Nevertheless, they hit it off in these opening scenes, sharing as many awkward and uncomfortable moments as they do flirtatious ones. This is the springboard for their strange, yet affectionate relationship. But like many relationships, theirs doesn’t survive. Though we don’t see what it was that drew them apart, we understand the effects of it, as Joel is crushed.

Joel frequently attempts to reach Clementine because of his apparent guilt over the failure of their relationship, but he soon realizes that she’s moved on. Not only has she moved on, but she’s completely forgotten about him. He eventually finds out that Clementine had him removed from her memory by an organization called Lacuna. Upon visiting Lacuna, Joel meets its founder, Dr. Howard Mierzqwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who explains to him that Lacuna specializes in an experiment that can remove entire sections of memory. The procedure is designed for those who don’t want to deal with the pain of a failed relationship. Joel wastes no time in deciding that he wants to undergo this process just as Clementine did, for the pain of her memory is too unbearable for Joel.

The process takes several hours and is carried out in Joel’s apartment by Dr. Howard’s associates, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), who monitor the process while Joel lays motionless in his bed. The film then takes us into Joel’s mind, a dizzying labyrinth of subconscious thoughts and detailed memories about Clementine. As those memories are systematically erased, Joel gets a chance to experience them all again.

The remainder of the film focuses on the surreal world of Joe’s memory, and this is where director Michel Gondry works wonders. This is one of the few films in recent times that actually creates the atmosphere and feelings of a dream. The deeper we get into this man’s mind, the more we come to understand of his relationship with Clementine. And it isn’t long before Joel realizes that he doesn’t want to lose these memories of her because they are important to him and a part of who he is, regardless of whether or not he’s with her now or not. But he has already made the choice to have them erased, so he begins invading his own memories in an attempt to hang onto them.

As the film goes on, Joel begins interacting with Clementine in these memories, and the two journey into the depths of his mind in order to hold on to what they have. Complimenting the amazing visual poetry of this film is the real emotion between these two characters. The imaginative visuals and surreal quality of the narrative ultimately support the characters and story, and are therefore much more powerful. Michel Gondry never loses focus on what’s really important in this story. The performances are crucial, and while the supporting cast is uniformly excellent and Kate Winslet does a fine job in her role, Jim Carrey is the one who holds the film together. Everything essentially rests on his performance, and he rises to the occasion. This performance will be remembered as one of his best and most honest.

“Eternal Sunshine” was written by Charlie Kaufman, the famed screenwriter of the offbeat, yet wonderful films, “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” Both of those movies, in all their complexities and off-the-wall ideas, offer insights into the depths of the mind and for all that we yearn and desire as humans. Kaufman is a master at allowing us to get to know the inner workings of the characters he creates.

What’s especially interesting about “Eternal Sunshine” is not only that it’s a work of pure originality and freshness, but that it is a very affecting story about both the inherent imperfections and the inexplicable beauty of love.