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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/23/05

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004 (2004) - Focus Film Entertainment (Universal)

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C+

Specs and Features

108 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered, keepcase packaging, audio commentary with director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman, A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind featurette (12 mins, 4x3, English DD 2.0), A Conversation with Jim Carrey and director Michel Gondry featurette (15 mins, 4x3, English DD 2.0), 4 deleted scenes, Lacuna infomercial, The Polyphonic Spree's Light & Day music video, film-themed menus, scene selection (20 chapters), languages: English and French DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"I can't remember anything without you."

Minutes after I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the theater (alright, it was more like the next day) I sent out an email to my friends and family begging them to go see this film. If I still had a copy of that email available I would share it here with you, but I can't. Paraphrasing (and embellishing) to the best of my knowledge, the email went something like this...

I wouldn't normally do a thing like this, but every once in a while something comes along that deserves to be shared. It's been a long time since I've seen a film as emotionally honest as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I encourage all of you to go see this movie, right now. I'm serious, drop what you are doing and run out to the theater - even if you must pay full price, it's more than worth it - and see this film. Films this original, intelligent, and enjoyable do not come around that often, and they will continue to be scarce if we don't begin to send a message to Hollywood that we are willing, and indeed WANTING to see more films like this. Tell all of your friends to see this film, go to see it over and over again, do whatever you can to help this film perform well at the box office. If we don't do this we can plainly see what we'll get more of: bland romantic comedies with no real substance or soul; tired teen comedies looking for a cheap laugh; countless unnecessary re-treads of old television shows; and mindless explosions, ad nauseum. Don't get me wrong, these kinds of films have their place, but they have become the mandate, not the exception. I feel that we as a society are much more intelligent than we are being treated and I think it is time that we start rattling the cages and let the 'powers' that be know that we are hungry for entertainment that encourages us to think and feel, not just sit, stare, and forget. So, I ask you to please go and see this film, you all may not enjoy it as much as I have, but I think you'll at least get something out of it. It's becoming more and more frustrating to see films that no one seemed to enjoy making a hundred million dollars, while films like this struggle to even get made. Sorry to interrupt your day, but thanks for reading...

Well, it's been almost a year since that time and I'm happy to say that my opinion still hasn't changed that much. It may not be the greatest American film of the year (Sideways takes that crown, in my eyes), but it is certainly the most challenging and audacious.

Summing up the film is a very delicate process. Not only is Eternal Sunshine an extremely high-concept film, it is also filled with numerous tiny details that are really its core, but completely useless in a description. The plot itself is extremely simple and I have seen the film criticized for this; but I feel that to do so ignores the fact that the film is telling a universal story in such a complicated way that any further clutter would make the film too dense and confusing to be effective. Eternal Sunshine is the story of Joel (Jim Carrey in easily his best performance to date, we're talking night and day here), a lonely and withdrawn man who meets a mysterious and strong willed woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet, giving a wonderfully energetic performance) on a train returning from Montauk, NY. He quickly begins to fall for her, but soon after the revelation of a shared past threatens their budding relationship. In all reality, that's pretty much the extent of the main plot, but along the way we are treated to: mind erasure; stolen identities; childhood trauma; and essentially a reverse-chronological narrative slapped in the middle of a normal narrative, the two almost seamlessly woven together to make an ultimately coherent whole.

Story aside, Eternal Sunshine is really about memory and it's malleable, ever-changing nature. We like to think of our memories as photographs, little snippets of life that we remember verbatim. In all reality though, the two are diametrically opposed to each other. Photographs capture a split second in time in a physical sense, but rarely capture emotion (and when they do it is even more rarely the actual emotion of the moment). Memory, on the other hand, is primarily emotion with very little physical detail. The specifics of memory fade and change while the emotional core sticks with us, sometimes growing to traumatic proportions. This seems to be the central theme of Eternal Sunshine; as his memory is being erased Joel fights to keep it in place as he realizes that part of himself is disappearing. This has the effect of amplifying Joel's love for Clementine because he realizes that the two of them are tightly intertwined. Joel cannot simply forget about Clem, because it means forgetting/losing a part of himself (he can't remember childhood songs, places he's been to, etc.). It is only when all of their grievances about one another are fully expressed that Joel and Clementine can truly come together as a couple. There is no long-winded speech from either one of them, trying to convince the other that they love them or any other cute little action that seemingly wipes away all the pain and guilt that came before. They are both just laid bare before one another and it is in this moment that they decide that they want to be with one another. It's a very powerful and moving depiction of love, a statement that is refreshingly honest and romantic without the bitter saccharine aftertaste that so many films seem to leave nowadays.

Universal's initial release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is happily very strong. Visually, the film is represented very well, with the film's muted color scheme faithfully represented and a sharp detailed picture. Audio is as good as it should be for this kind of film, with surrounds used more subtly for atmosphere and the occasional effect. The soundtrack is also clean and balanced, overall an excellent presentation. The only real shortcomings of the disc are the extras. The two featurettes included are largely forgettable fluff pieces, with the notable exception of a brief glimpse in the interview piece of how Gondry was able to achieve the in-camera effects during the childhood scene with Joel and his mother. Considering the fact that most of the effects in the film were done in-camera, this all-to-brief glimpse highlights the lack of similar material and leaves an overwhelming feeling of disappointment (there is a wealth of similar footage included in Gondry's volume of the Director Series discs covering how he achieved similar effects for his music videos, and I would direct the curious to check that disc out - it's amazing work in and of itself). The deleted scenes, taken from a work print, are largely forgettable, not really bringing anything of great interest to the table. Somewhat more interesting are the Polyphonic Spree video (consisting entirely of digitally altered shots from the film, and quite giddy in its own way) and the Lacuna infomercial. I am always glad to see little bits like this Lacuna piece, which are usually only glimpsed in the films they are created for, in their entirety and its inclusion is very welcome since they give a further glimpse into the development of the film and its characters and themes. The most interesting extra, however, is the commentary by Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It can be a bit dry, but it's a pleasure to hear the two of them talk about the development of the film and the difficulties of bringing the original vision of the film from the page to screen.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is easily my favorite American film in recent years. It is that most rare of items, an honest romance film that doesn't shy away from the complexity of human relationships, and is never condescending to the viewer's intelligence. Nearly everyone involved is pushing themselves to new levels: Carrey gives the finest performance of his career, Winslet finally seems to be stretching out into more challenging roles - to great effect, Kaufman turns in his finest script to date, and Gondry proves his ability to shoulder a feature film to a stunning degree. Top it all off with a fine supporting cast (including Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson) and you have the making of a modern classic. Long after the likes of Bridget Jones' Diary, The Runaway Bride, and countless other romantic comedies have disappeared into the ether, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will continue to be loved and admired for the creative energy and power held within it, at least by this reviewer.

Rob Hale
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