Combustible Celluloid Review - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Charlie Kaufman, from a story by Charlie Kaufman, MIchel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry, Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jane Adams, David Cross, Deirdre O'Connell
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With: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jane Adams, David Cross, Deirdre O'Connell
Written by: Charlie Kaufman, from a story by Charlie Kaufman, MIchel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth
Directed by: Michel Gondry
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and sexual content
Running Time: 108
Date: 03/18/2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dream Team

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One thing that movies do better than any other art form is capture dream logic. And yet very few films and filmmakers have ever been able to do it properly; most resort to using strange imagery like dwarves and fuzzy filters or simply presenting the dream as reality, followed by the dreamer suddenly waking up in bed.

Luis Bunuel and David Lynch are two filmmakers who have artfully shown dream logic again and again in their work. And if Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is any indication, he may soon be joining that list.

Written by today's supreme screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), the new film tells the story of a scientific process that will allow people to erase certain people from their memories, i.e. after a particularly heartbreaking breakup.

As such, sad sack Joel (Jim Carrey) finds that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) doesn't know who he is anymore. A friend spills the beans and he goes to the same doctor (Tom Wilkinson) to have the same procedure done.

The film plays completely and totally outside of chronological order. It starts at the end of the story, where Joel and Clementine meet. We assume that it's for the first time, but it's actually the second time.

Most of the film unfolds during Joel's procedure, where time not only happens out of order, but the very fabric of reality wobbles uncertainly. In one scene, Joel chases Clementine down a street, but each time he reaches the end of the block, he's back at the beginning of the block -- all without a cut. It's not clear how Gondry achieved this amazing effect, but it's truly odd and leaves us quite off-kilter.

Halfway through, Joel changes his mind about the procedure and tries to "hide" from the doctors in an earlier set of memories. He suddenly appears as himself, four years old, in a proportionate kitchen where he can hide under the table and take a bath in the sink.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind continues to come up with such amazing visuals, but its real trick is that it makes us care for Joel and Clementine. It somehow captures the real blood and guts of a relationship, from the initial excitement to the subsequent ennui and comfort.

The film emphasizes this with its subplot, a love quintangle involving the doctor and his crew. While Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) perform the procedure on Joel while he sleeps, Mary (Kirsten Dunst) turns up. Stan is in love with Mary, but she has eyes for the doctor. Meanwhile, Patrick is using what he has learned from Joel's memories to seduce the newly available Clementine.

More so than any summer blockbuster, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a real "ride." We don't know what's coming next, or when it will end. We have nothing reassuring to grasp onto. We just have to go with it. And when it's over, we really feel like we've been somewhere.

After an initial DVD release from Focus Features, a second, two-disc bonus edition was released during awards season, perhaps to remind people what a special film this is. The new set comes with everything previously seen on the first disc, plus new interviews with Carrey, Gondry and Winslet, new deleted scenes and a look at the visual effects. The package comes with a booklet of photos and sketches. In 2012, Universal released a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack in conjunction with the studio's 100th anniversary.

In 2022, Kino Lorber released a 4K edition of the film, plus a new, upgraded Blu-ray, which includes a whole batch of extras: a commentary track by Gondry and Kaufman, interviews with cinematographer Ellen Kuras, Carrey, Gondry, Winslet, etc., behind-the-scenes features, an episode of "Anatomy of a Scene," deleted and extended scenes, a Polyphonic Spree music video, a trailer, and more. Highly Recommended.

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