Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This is one of my most recent unpublished reviews.  I’m very proud of it but I have a feeling most people will disagree with its assessment.  Hopefully, you can look past that while reading it.  No changes have been made, so you’re reading what I wrote last December.

I saw this movie on DVD on December 11, 2005 and what a depressing experience it was.  It’s hard to believe this was one of the most acclaimed films of 2004.  (According to, it has a fresh rating of 93%.)

By Dennis Earl

A dishevelled man wakes up one morning with a puzzled look on his face. He appears to have no clue what has just happened to him. In the parking lot, he notices a large dent on the driver’s side of his car. Naturally, he assumes the car parked next to his caused the damage. (He leaves a sarcastic “Thank you!” note on that car’s windshield.)

While at the train station waiting for his daily commute to work, privately bemoaning the fake holiday that is Valentine’s Day, he suddenly bolts from his crowded position on the outside platform. Running through the terminal like a madman, he finds a different train and forces his way in just before it leaves the station. It is here he meets her, a free-spirited beauty he’s been privately sketching.

The woman is played by Kate Winslet and the man is played by Jim Carrey in the movie, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, a great title taken from an old Alexander Pope poem. Sadly, this movie is far from great. In fact, it’s downright dour and so slow in its pacing, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Carrey plays Joel Barish, a terminally miserable guy who may or may not have gotten over a woman who may or may not still be his girlfriend. He is passive-aggressive to the T, apologizing too much and whenever he speaks his mind, he often takes it back with yet another apology.

Winslet is Clementine, his new love interest and perhaps the most frustrating woman I’ve seen in the movies since Claudia Christian’s psychotic supermodel in Hexed. She is overbearing, pushy, domineering, impulsive, self-conscious, commitment-phobic, whiny, self-loathing and worst of all, a mean drunk.

Their conversation on the train, it later turns out, is not their first. They have a past history together but neither can remember it. Told out of sequence a la Quentin Tarantino, Eternal Sunshine jerks you around by meandering between memory and reality over and over again. It’s too bad I didn’t care.

We soon realize that Clementine and Joel are a horrible mismatch. She lives her life on spontaneous whims and he struggles with the idea of going along with every one of them. They get into horrible fights. In one scene, after seeing a young child while walking down the street, Clementine suddenly announces she’d like a baby of her own. Joel doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Clementine cruelly demeans him in as loud a tone as she can muster and Joel once again finds himself in the awkward, thankless position of being not her boyfriend but her favourite object of abuse.

Things get even worse a few days before Valentine’s Day when Joel plans to surprise his bitch with a special gift. He goes to Barnes & Noble where she works only to discover her cavorting with some guy named Patrick conveniently concealed from his view. She treats him like a customer who’s never been in the store before. He is crushed. He turns to his friends for consoling when he receives the worst news. Clementine underwent a procedure to have all memories of Joel removed from her brain. It was a stupid, impulsive decision, typical of Clem, which she later regrets as she feels even more lost and confused than she did before.

Wanting to even the score and deeply wounded in his own right, Joel consults the exact same doctor (Tom Wilkinson) that Clem worked with and wants all memories of her eradicated from his brain. Later that night, during a long, tumultuous session where all of his memories of Clem are slowly erased one by one, while unconscious, he stupidly thinks that he’s made a terrible mistake and tries desperately to hang onto the few good memories he had with this unbearable woman.

As if there wasn’t enough soap opera in this loopy story, Patrick, Clem’s new lover, and played by, of all actors, Elijah Wood, is one of the technicians assigned to delete Joel’s memories. He is secretly seducing Clem by using Joel’s possessions which Joel discovers because he can hear outside conversations, unrelated to his memories, while unconscious. Wood’s co-worker, Mark Ruffalo, has his own problems. His girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst, seems more interested in their employer, the erasure doctor, Tom Wilkinson, than him. It appears the doctor had a very good reason for eradicating Dunst’s mind.

Before I watched this movie, I wondered whether it was going to be a comedy, a drama or a mix of the two. In the end, I’m not sure it was either. I laughed once during a memory sequence set at a drive-in and that was it. The rest of the time I was annoyed and dismayed with the characters and wondered why no one ever contemplated suicide or mass murder. It might’ve made for a better movie.

This is the third Charlie Kaufman film I’ve seen and I still don’t understand why people love his work. His sense of humour is lost on me most of the time and he creates characters who are impossible to love and so neurotic you wonder if he is somehow related to Woody Allen, or perhaps trying to impress him.

The idea of erasing bad memories of bad romantic relationships is not original. I remember an episode of that ABC sitcom It’s Like, You Know, that dealt with the exact same subject in a more minimalist approach. I understand fully why both Clementine and Joel want to wipe the slate clean and forget they ever met. What I don’t understand is why they think this is a bad idea.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
1:39 a.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 1:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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