How to review a movie that makes it a point to rebel against all the standards that critics use to analyze a film? Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is the newest mind-fuck from Charlie Kaufman, writer of Human Nature, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. Kauffman has already carved a niche for himself, becoming notorious for his twisted and tangled meta-films, his rebellions against the concept of linear, coherent plotlines. His films force the audience into a much more active state then one is used to when one goes to the movies; he forces his audience to stay involved, to run alongside his subconscious, trying to keep up with the twists and turns of his psyche. His movies can be simultaneously exhausting, frustrating and incredibly exhilarating. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is no exception; but this movie diverges from the typical Kaufman formula in that it is charming, optimistic, and dare I say, heartwarming as well.
Credit for the sweet, romantic elements of this movie should be given primarily to Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as the two leads. As Joel Barrish, Carrey exudes a kind of quiet despair and barely contained desperation for another person to penetrate the bubble he has created for himself. The dual feelings of fear and gratification that the forceful assertion of Clementine Kruczynski (Winslet) into his world brings about register nakedly on his face. Carrey is doing more then just channeling Kaufman as Cage did in Adaptation, he's adding layers and nuances to the concept of the 'lonely, loony single man.' As a fan of the actor it is gratifying to see him in a role where he is free to use his un-tethered physicality, where the extreme emotional nakedness of his features and gestures are able to convey real emotion, not just spastic, manic humor.
And his performance is equaled by Winslet's. Defying the cliché of 'free-spirit,' Winslet's Clementine has no qualms about acting on impulse, of spitting in the face of what is common and average. With her perpetually changing hair color and ability to make chameleon-like transformations depending on her clothes, her jewelry, the intensity of her expression, Clementine seems initially ungrounded, undefined and transient. Yet her insecurities, her desire to be told that she is beautiful, her drinking and finally her roundabout, complicated love render her transcendent.
An attempt to summarize the plot would be futile, and moreover unfair to the reader; it's crucial to walk into this movie without any preconceived notions of what it's 'about.' Suffice to say that the process of trying to erase the painful memories of an relationship gone sour has some very unintended side effects for both Joel and Caroline, and in the process of going through their separate psyches the audience is inundated with haunting, beautiful and painfully