Michel Gondry:"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)

At once scathingly unsentimental and thrillingly romantic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the perfect date movie for smart couples. The film offers further evidence of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's amazing talent for generating intense emotional investment from seemingly absurd situations, and visual fantasist Michel Gondry shows here (as he failed to do in his first collaboration with Kaufman, Human Nature) that he is the perfect director to bring the screenwriter's brilliant, twisted, solipsistic vision to life. Gondry's visual inventiveness matches Kaufman's enjoyably offbeat conceit. In the film's jaw-dropping centerpiece, Gondry and Kaufman literally deconstruct the typical romantic comedy "falling in love" montage, as the technicians of Lacuna work on Joel's (Jim Carrey) brain, erasing the high and low points of his relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) as fast as he can remember them. While there's a surface similarity here to the chase through John Malkovich's subconscious in Being John Malkovich, the emotional stakes here are higher, as Joel has a change of heart during the procedure, and, aided by his own mind's version of Clementine, frantically tries to preserve a memory of her, eventually going to comically desperate lengths. Gondry surprises us again and again with the images he conjures from Kaufman's labyrinthine script. In Human Nature, it often seemed as though the filmmakers were holding the bizarre characters up to ridicule, but Eternal Sunshine is, at its core, generous and humane. We can't help but empathize with Joel's yearning or fall for Clementine's passion and confusion. The film is so generously overstuffed with ideas and jokes that it demands repeat viewing. Capturing the joys and pains of romantic obsession as few filmmakers have before, Gondry and Kaufman have come up with a masterpiece.


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