How many among us have not wished that we had never met an ex-love? A voice somewhere deep in your subconscious that whispers, “Would it have been so much better if this had never happened?” This is the question posed in the new film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Joel Barrish, played by Jim Carrey, sans the goofy faces and physical comedy, wants to undergo a procedure to block out the entire two years of his most recent relationship. He does this in retaliation: His ex-girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) has just had the procedure done and he finds out through mutual friends that all of her memories of their relationship have been erased. Joel goes to see Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, played by Tom Wilkinson, and arranges for the procedure to be done in his home. On that night, Joel is hooked up to electrodes and computers, la The Bionic Man, by Dr. Mierzwiak’s technicians Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood).
As the movie progresses, Joel experiences memories of Clementine, both good and bad, and the procedure is botched, mainly because Stan is trying to make a play for the office receptionist Mary, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Patrick leaves early so he can try to woo Clementine. For those having a hard time keeping up, Patrick was present at Clementine’s procedure, and he has taken her (good) memories of Joel to get her to fall for him.
Through Joel’s memories, we can see a strong bond between him and Clementine. He struggles to keep his remaining memories of her, hiding her away in his deepest, most repressed memories, and it is heartbreaking to watch as she disappears from him. It is fitting that Winslet’s character be named Clementine. The lyrics to the children’s song that bears her name, “You are lost and gone forever,” have a significant meaning throughout the film as Joel fights to save her.
The two are obvious polar opposites; he is painfully recessive and closed, and she is impulsive almost to the point of mania, with moods that change as often as her hair color – from blue to green to orange to blood red. Despite all that, and the fact that they just can’t seem to find the same wave-length, despite everything wrong with them together, it’s almost worse when they’re apart. This movie captures something in its audience that makes viewers want these two to stay together.
This is one of the deepest, most human roles that I’ve ever seen Carrey play. There is no toilet humor and no weird accents, but rather an average guy on the verge of losing his entire world. The whole thing is very “It’s a Wonderful Life,” except instead of getting a preview of his life without his “juicy and seedless” Clementine (odd pet names run rampant through the movie) he is actually experiencing it first hand.
To be sure, this is not your garden-variety love story. At certain points, it is an affirmation of how much the two can’t stand each other. But the focus is not on those times just before a breakup when things are bad, but rather on the times when the two first met, and how they enjoyed each other.