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How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
          – Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard

 

**

Summer is the best time for me to catch up on movies I have missed in recent years.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of them.  I have long admired the title of this movie, and wondered who made it up and what it could possibly mean.  Well, I finally made the move and bought the DVD.  After watching it I gave out a sigh of contentment, “Of course!”

It is a challenge to write a review of this movie without spoiling the enjoyment of those who haven’t seen it.  But just let me say this Oscar Best Original Screenplay (2005) is one of the most ingenious in years.  Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, of Adaptation (2002) and Being John Malkovich (1999) fame, teamed up with director Michel Gondy and screenwriter Pierre Bismuth, and created a wonderful and fresh look at a love story.

If science could allow you to erase any bad memories, which ones would you delete?  This is the premise of the film.  Two individuals, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) met each other at a friend’s party and fell in love.  As with all relationships, they went through ups and downs, experiencing the exhilaration that love could bring, as well as the humiliation it could unleash.  Given the convenience of technological advancement, they elected to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turned sour.

What follows is nothing short of a visual treatise on the conflict between scientific advancement and what it  means to be human, but well embedded in an intelligent sci-fi comedy, evoking the minds of Nietzsche and Pope.

The fine script is augmented by the excellent acting of the cast.  I’m not a Jim Carrey fan, but I’ve particularly enjoyed his more ‘serious’ roles, like in The Truman Show (1998 ) and here in ESOTSM.  He has given a superb performance as the sullen Joel Barish.  Kate Winslet is convincing as the wild and intuitive Clementine.  Their amiable chemistry draws out some great performance from each other.

The rest of the cast is also fun to watch.  Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette, 2006), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, 2007), Mark Ruffalo (Blindness, 2008 ), and Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003), all lend exceptional support to the main characters.

Other than the acting, the movie also benefits from some excellent editing and technical expertise.  The switching back and forth in time, and the juxtaposition of memories with the present, and imagination with reality, is superbly intertwined.  On first viewing, one may find it a little confusing.  However, as the movie finishes, one would definitely want to watch the beginning again.

I was much gratified to see the story come to an ingenious end.  With love, bad memories are better than no memories.  As I was watching, a movie quote from another film came to mind:

The things that people in love do to each other they remember, and if they stay together it’s not because they forget, it’s because they forgive.

It is uplifting to be reaffirmed that being human encompasses the various subjectivity of experiences, be they sad or joyous.  And forgiveness and love may well be some of the loftiest ideals humanity could ever pursue.

The DVD comes with some excellent special features including behind-the-scenes look at the production, a conversation with Jim Carrey and director Michel Gondry, feature commentary with Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman, a music video, deleted scenes, and a neat little surprise.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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