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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

It’s true what they say: Things are not always as they seem. Take the 2004 film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. A movie with such an innocuous and unassuming title reveals itself to be an emotionally riveting rollercoaster ride. The movie focuses on the relationship of Joel Barish, middle-aged, mild, and moderate, and Clementine Kruczynski, whose personality is as mercurial and unpredictable as her ever-changing hair color. They meet at a rainy beach called Montauk after Joel Barish inexplicably ditches work. During the ride home, the affection the two hold toward each other becomes more and more evident. After an unofficial first date, there is a tacit understanding between the audience, Clementine, and Joel of a hookup. Huzzah! It seems the happy ending the movie’s title suggested just might come true.

Or not. The next scene shows a heart-broken Joel after a nasty break up. The impulsive Clementine has had her memory of Joel erased. Out of spite (and almost out of character) Joel decides to have the same operation. The procedures are conducted by a medical center called Lacuna and require a patient to spend the entire night hooked up to an intricate machine which will guide Joel through his memories with Clementine before it wipes them from his mind. It would seem that blowing away anxieties that sully the mind is the solution. Joel can be left with a clean, spotless slate and try his luck at love once more. But as Charlie Kaufman, the writer of Eternal Sunshine points out, mistakes and pain are what make us learn and grow. By erasing these pains, the benefits and strength that are garnered by them are erased as well. Perhaps it is not eternal sunshine that brings us happiness, but the stark contrast of the few rays of joy that shed light upon the despondent darkness of our minds is what does.

Eternal Sunshine goes beyond science fiction and with panache and grace, the story evolves into a film of dark, unlovely elegance. Ironically, a movie called “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is at its paramount at times of misery, rather than at times of bliss. In a moment of raw agony, Joel cries out in vain to tell Dr. Howard Mierzwiak to stop the operation. Not to suggest that all other scenes are not a delight as well. In fact, when director, Michel Gondry does allow the audience a fleeting glimpse of happiness, these scenes are magnified, and treasured for their rarity.

The entire process of showing a memory before it is disintegrated is a golden opportunity for special effects manager, Mark Bero. The opportunity is not wasted, and the result is a surreal journey of enthralling distortion. Bero’s creative talent is at its best in a stunning finale where Joel and Clementine desperately cling to each other while the only remaining memory of each other collapses around them.

The only rift in the smooth plot of Eternal Sunshine is an unnecessary subplot that affects an ending that should have ended on a succinct, sharp note. Although Gondry tries to disguise it, in reality, the subplot that involves the staff of Lacuna amounts to nothing more than filler for the scenes that don’t involve Joel’s memories, and never really grabs the audience as well as the love of Joel and Clementine

It’s true what they say: Things are not always as they seem. Perhaps Eternal Sunshine’s biggest trick of all is the suggestion that the eradication of any gloomy thoughts is the key to happiness, that if Joel and Clem erased their painful memories, they could move on to something better. This logic is revealed to be corrupt. A mind of perfect and pure memories is nothing but dull simplicity. The chaotic mix and contrast of anguish and ecstasy may not be spotless, but it makes a much richer and fulfilling experience for both Joel and Clementine, and for the audience of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5



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