The question this film asks is outstandingly simple – if you get a chance to forget a lover, would you take it?
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood
Director: Michel Gondry
Year of Release: 2004
A FILM OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING
Valentine’s Day is “a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.” Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind begins with such pessimism. Played by Jim Carrey, Joel Barish is withdrawn, alone and reticent to engage with the world. And then, in keeping with familiar cinematic tropes, he meets a stranger on a train.
Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) is everything Joel is not. She is gregarious and outgoing. She punches Joel while talking to him and their conversation is exquisite in its awkwardness. Joel finally gets over himself and offers Clementine a ride. They drink while listening to Lata’s ‘Wada Na Tod’ and Rafi’s ‘Mera Man Tera Pyasa’. He calls her the minute he gets home and she asks endearingly, “What took you so long?” So far, so typical.
Eternal Sunshine starts the way any romantic comedy ought to – with possibility. Subversion, however, waits around the corner. As it turns out, the encounter on the train wasn’t the first time Joel and Clementine had met. They had been in a relationship for two years. Their remembrance of togetherness had been erased when they signed up with Lacuna Inc, a firm which allows you to forget the nagging trauma of loss. All they have to do is enter your mind and hit delete.
We first see Joel’s head hooked up to a strange contraption and we’re then given a peek inside. We see him invent constellations for Clementine, play dead for her. They bicker in a restaurant. We see him forget their breakup. Love, in the end, really seems nothing more than a sum of ordinary experience.
Nothing about Eternal Sunshine is linear. Few scripts written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) seldom are. Director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind) presses play, rewind, fast forward, pause and stop all together. Strangely, though, the film, despite its jumps between past and present, is never confusing.
The question it asks is outstandingly simple – if you get a chance to forget a lover, would you take it? A relationship, Eternal Sunshine suggests, is all about access. We offer our partners a window into our fears, our humiliation. As Clementine and Joel snuggle under a blanket, she tells him how she thinks she is ugly. Joel takes her back to a moment when his mother was bathing him in the kitchen sink. For all of Lacuna Inc’s efforts, a complete erasure remains impossible. We imbibe love. It percolates through us. We don’t just feel it.
Seen together, the supporting cast of Eternal Sunshine could instantly make any film a blockbuster. Tom Wilkinson (Shakespeare in Love, Michael Clayton) deftly plays Lacuna’s chief. Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Shutter Island) is brilliant as the firm’s bumbling technician. Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) plays a stalker with a charming innocence and Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia, Spiderman) is effortlessly convincing as a young woman in love with her boss.
But the real performances you must watch this film for are those of the two protagonists. The measure with which Carrey plays Joel is starkly at odds with his otherwise over-the-top filmography (The Mask, Dumb and Dumber). He is instantly disarming, and Kate Winslet (The Reader, Little Children) brings a vivacity that is infectious.
If Freud were alive, he’d probably have been the one making this recommendation, but for now, you should take my word for it – if you have ever been in love, you will absolutely love Eternal Sunshine.