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IN SHORT: So clever that our brain hurts. [Rated R for Language, Some Drug and Sexual Content. minutes]
We already knew that writer Charlie Kaufman is far better than most who slave over their keyboards. He is far better than just accomplished. Kaufman is a very clever writer. If he had only written Being John Malkovich, that would have been enough to cement his rep as a clever writer. He pushed the boundaries even further with Adaptation which, depending on your perspective, was either complex and brilliant or too darned complex. His current work Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a complex and clever comic piece celebrating (or condemning, depending on you) the joys of intentional brain damage.
Considering that intentional brain damage is the point of one of his jokes, long spilled in the advertising, Kaufman has now moved into the realm of rubbing the viewer's nose in how clever he is. It's a very strange feeling to walk out of a screening thinking little of the actors or the story or its gimmick; the only thought wafting through our deteriorating gray matter was "gee, that was clever writing." Good writing is only the starting point for good film making. We should not be thinking about the writing, and only the writing, when all is said and done. That was the case with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film so dead on target with the mind set taught in film school that it will have cinerati dancing in the aisles. Everyone else gets some chuckles and a whole mess'a clever visual effects to drive the story along.
Begin with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), an average dude who sleeps on a pull out, lives in an apartment in Rockville Center, Long Island and takes the Long Island Railroad to an unspecified job in New York City, every work day of his life but the day that this story begins. On this day, Joel crosses the platform and takes a different train, out to Montauk on the other end of the Island. There he will meet and be stalked in that love-at-first-site-kind-of-thing way by a blue haired girl in an orange sweatshirt. Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), who works at a Barnes and Noble booksellers store, will later have green hair (or red, not necessarily in that order) and a big enough disagreement with her then boyfriend Joel, that she will wash the man right out of her head. Literally.
Joel receives a card from the "Lacuna Corporation," telling him that he as been erased from Clementine's memory and should make no effort to contact her. Clementine's name then disappears from the card, leaving only the identity and address of the nefarious corporation that did the deed. Well, what's good enough for the goose, so to speak, is good enough for Joel, who signs a contract with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), to have his memories of Clementine wiped out as well. Joel collects and surrenders all hard mementos of the girl, pictures and notes etcetera. Then, with a 50s-looking schlock piece of SF headgear strapped to his head, he is put to sleep. Under the good doctor's supervision, and thanks to director Michel Gondry, voila! we get to watch Joel's memories vanish from reality forever.
Those memories show us that Joel met Clementine under different circumstances than we thought; that one mind wipe may not be as effective as two or three; that an unconscious mind isn't really unconscious; and that Charlie Kaufman is a very clever writer. How else could he make us believe and care that an unconscious Barish, lost in old memories, is very much aware that one of Mierawiak's crew -- consisting of Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) -- is using his old memories and a box filled with "hard" items like photos and notes, to win Clementine's hand?
Let's try that again: a conscious mind trapped in an unconscious state in which the present is comprised solely of past memories that are being mechanically erased, desperately tries to wake himself up -- or at least grab one of the memories of his perfect girl and hide it from the mental destructo beams that are a gunnin' for it. While he is out for 12 hours or so, he becomes aware of an employee's efforts over a number of days to win the hand of his ex.
We're not quite sure about that "number of days" bit. As we wrote above, the picture made our brain hurt.
Doctor Mierzwiak's secretary, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), has got a subplot all to herself but it involves a surprise so we're not spilling. Both realities have their stories play out in parallel and, while we had no trouble keeping everything in its proper place, we were merely amused. Given the talents involved we expected more.
Then again, the day before we screened Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind we received some incredibly depressing medical news, so we were hoping for a raucous comedy of the type Jim Carrey made his fame with. Not getting more than a couple of chuckles we upped our attention level to monitor the audience even more closely than usual. They weren't doing much more than giggling, either. Those expecting an old-style laugh riot aren't going to get it. Those expecting an adult oriented film with humor are more than likely to be more amused. Film student types will be happy as clams.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he would have paid . . .
dateflick level for those still doing so -- you are free to assume our bad news affected our judgment. We still think you should wait and get it on PPV. We can't tell you how disappointed we were (though the last eight words will just have to do).
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