Being John Malkovich was really a far more monumental film that even its fans believe. Rarely had a movie as sublimely screwy as this one achieved such widespread success and raves. Spike Jonze also joined the ranks of David Fincher as former video directors who proved they really could direct superior feature films. So it is pleasing to see video director Michel Gondry, with the help of Jonze screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, add his name to that list.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proves to be as big a mindf*ck for its audience as for its main character Joel (Jim Carrey). He's just ended a long relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) and, after visiting with mutual friends, discovers that she has had him erased from her memory by a company called Lacuna. In retaliation, he decides to have the same procedure done. After taking some powerful sedatives one night, technicians from Lacuna come into his apartment to erase Clementine away forever. In the midst of the erasure, he decides against the procedure, but he's having a hell of a time keeping it all from slipping away.
Even after hearing of all the talented people involved in this film, I was afraid it might fall under its own trippy weight. I began thinking of the chase scene at the end of Being John Malkovich and wondered if such a concept as running around inside someone's head could survive a full 90 minute treatment. But Gondry knows this is the wrong way to approach the material. Yes, there are funky visuals like people winking out of existence and cars disappearing a slice at a time, but the main focus is on the relationship between Joel and Clementine, as it should be. We quickly grow fond of these characters and our heart breaks each time another one of Joel's memories falls through his fingers.
Jim Carrey, once again, has shown that he can act, by gum, when he makes an effort to turn it down a notch or three. Again, we have to really like this guy, and the relationship that he had with Clementine, in order to care whether or not he losses it all. Perhaps I'm particularly touched by this concept since I am terrified of Alzheimer's. Though it is one of the least physically painful maladies, to be stripped of elements that make you who you are is a devastating concept, and Carrey communicates that.
At this point, Kate Winslet has excelled in as many kind of romantic roles that exist in film. She's nailed Period Piece Romance (Sense and Sensibility), Hollywood Melodrama Romance (Titanic), Artist Biography Romance (Iris) and even Tragic Tabooed Romance (Heavenly Creatures). With Eternal Sunshine, she can add Quirky Indie Romance to her resume. Her Clementine is one of those messed up yet massively charismatic free spirits. I'm reminded of Roger Ebert's description of Natalie Portman in Garden State as, "one of those creatures you sometimes find in the movies, a girl who is completely available, absolutely desirable and really likes you."
In supporting roles, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst (as a secretary and technician of Lacuna, respectively) do very well with their subplot. Elijah Wood apparently decided that his first major role after playing a likeable character for so long should be a bit of a creep, which he pulls off. Finally, there's Tom Wilkinson, who seems to popping up everywhere these days in a very wide variety of roles. Jim Broadbent was doing the same thing back four years ago and got an Oscar for his troubles. Don't be too surprised if Tom picks up one soon, as well.
When it comes to "Love & Loss" stories, there is loss and then there is loss. This film got so much attention because of it's freaky concept, but it ends up affecting you through the heartbreak and love of it's characters. The movie is truly unforgettable. No. Scratch that. Make that "Uneraseable".
Nine out of Ten
One side note: The trailer for this film prominently featured ELO's Beatlesque song "Mr. Blue Sky". I checked out the CD shortly after watching the film. I have now been compelled to listen to the song nonstop since then. To quote Captain Benjamin Sisko, "It's in my mind and it's rrreeeeeeaaaaaallllllll!!!!"
(This can also be viewed at Blogcritics)