Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Anonymous Content 2004.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Anonymous Content 2004.

Before watching the movie:

The basic plot seems attractive enough, as I’ve always been fascinated by explorations of mind and memory. I was even more interested when I learned about the dream imagery included. And I’m interested in Jim Carrey, even though I’m pretty sure he’s in a purely dramatic role here.

The reason I’ve never gotten to this is because it seems entirely concerned with the emotional drama, which is something I’m rarely in the mood for, especially at a feature-length scale. And so it’s now eligible to be among the movies this blog has given me a kick into seeing.

After watching the movie:

Joel Barish wants to make up with his girlfriend Clementine after their latest fight, but learns that she’s undergone a treatment to erase him from her memory. He’s so hurt by this that he decides to do the same. This involves technicians coming into his home while he’s asleep and neutralizing the memories in reverse order from a neural map of where she exists in his brain. He experiences this as a lucid dream where he’s occasionally aware of what the technicians are saying. As it progresses, he revisits the memories as they are erased, first the painful recent arguments, but then the happier times that he realizes he wants to keep, and begins to fight the wipe as his memories crumble around him.

I knew this story was told more or less in reverse order, but I still had a different structure in mind. I never picked up on the idea that the process was overnight. I was expecting to either see multiple sessions with the hurt draining away or to start after the fact and focus on the aftermath and rediscovery of what was lost. I wasn’t expecting the meat of the plot to be a Journey to the Center of the Mind. I like that better, because it can be compelling without lingering on painful moments as long as I was expecting.

It may seem odd to discuss the realism of a story where memory scrubbing is almost as mundane as teeth cleaning, but the dialogue of the relationship being dissected seems immensely realistic, which helps the audience connect with the characters and believe in them. If anything, it’s overly realistic. Similarly, it initially bothered me that Joel and Clementine seem to always be in a somewhat unkempt state, but it occurred to me that may be a choice for realism. Real people only approach looking like film stars when at their best.

I don’t really want to demean Jim Carrey by expecting him to stay in his box. I feel like I did too much of that for The Majestic. Again, I’m not really sure he brought a level that you wouldn’t see if you deleted the jokes from his comedies, but there was always more to him than the living cartoon character. Similarly, I wouldn’t have expected to see Kate Winslet as a punky girl, but Clementine’s inner conflict gives her a lot to work with.  Elijah Wood gets a small, surprising  role as a skeevy antagonist, and Mark Ruffalo is unsurprisingly charming, even though his character is inattentive.

I thought I knew too much about this film, but it constantly surprised me by being better than my expectations, even where they were already high. This is one reason why I do Yesterday’s Movies, giving me incentive to go back to movies I missed, and an outlet to discuss how I felt about them. Sometimes it’s hard, but the good things, and good films, are worth the maintenance.

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One thought on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  1. Sergio Arciniega April 13, 2014 / 7:21 pm

    Wow, just the differences character role for the actors is surprising. I never bothered with this movie either, but I guess I was too judgmental before.

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