There are some films that are just so universally beloved, they become legendary in how loved they are. Obviously there are a tremendous amount of great films, but very rarely are there films that achieve the status of being utter masterpieces as well as being almost perfectly adored by everyone from cinephiles to casual film fans. One film that is equally as acclaimed as it is loved is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a highly unique, audacious and brilliant film that deserves its place in the canon of great cinema.
For those who don’t know, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a hopelessly normal and socially awkward man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). They were polar opposites, but they somehow found love. However, after their breakup, Joel is horrified to discover that Clementine has undergone a procedure to erase Joel and their relationship from her memory. Joel is saddened by this, but believes the only way to get around it is to get his own memory erased of Clementine so he too can start over without the memory of her looming over him. However, what seems like a good idea at the beginning is actually a pretty bad one when Joel enters into his memory and finds that he and Clementine were a lot more special to each other than they previously imagined, and that Joel doesn’t want to lose the memories, as painful as they may be.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind boasts two leading performances from actors that could not have been more different in terms of their careers. The first is obviously Jim Carrey, who I still think is one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Of course Carrey made a career playing silly, over-the-top characters in broad comedies, but he has shown surprising brilliance with slightly more dramatic work. The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and I Love You Phillip Morris show a very talented actor, who is able to find the perfect balance between comedy and drama. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a radically different performance from Carrey. I never really saw this as Carrey’s best performance, but somehow I was so captivated by his performance here, more than I had ever been before. The thing about Carrey’s performance here was how unlike it was to anything Carrey had ever done before. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind gave Carrey some wonderful dramatic work to do, and I think he is absolutely wonderful. I miss the time when Carrey was one of the biggest actors of his generation, and I am just hoping that he will have a comeback that he deserves.
The other lead performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is Kate Winslet, who is undeniably one of the greatest actresses of her generation. She has always thrived on her natural charms, and while she has dealt with some serious dramatic work before, to see her in something a little lighter than what she does normally. Winslet is absolutely wonderful here – complex and quirky, she handles the role of the unconventional Clementine with perfect poise and a lot of spunk. Winslet is a chameleon in her performances, and she gives a performance unlike what she normally gives. Her performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is beautiful and heartbreaking, and she deserves all the acclaim she got from this film. What I find the most fascinating about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is how Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet would’ve been the two people I’d least expect to be paired up in a film like this – it seems to be so far out of their normal career sensibilities, yet they had sublime chemistry and gave powerhouse performances that will stand as some of the best of their respective careers.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is composed of two brilliant lead performances, but I just want to talk about the supporting cast as well. Tom Wilkinson plays the doctor who creates the procedure to have memory erased. I honestly don’t think there are many actors as reliable as Tom Wilkinson – he may very rarely play lead performances, but he certainly does play memorable supporting characters. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not an exception – he is tremendous and does the best with what he is given. Kirsten Dunst is also fantastic as Mary, the lovely and quirky secretary who harbours a crush on the doctor. Dunst is just so wonderful as an actress, and her performance is just incredible.
However, the supporting cast also contains two performances I was not impressed by. Elijah Wood is beyond unlikable as Patrick, Clementine’s lover after Joel. I understand that he was supposed to be an unlikable character, but I just found too problematic and clunky. Mark Ruffalo is also a reliable actor, but somehow I just couldn’t connect with him here. I have never been too impressed with Ruffalo as an actor, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind didn’t too much to impress me. However, those are minor complaints about an otherwise towering film.
A great script can only be realized by a great director, and a great director can only make a good film with a strong script. Very rarely has there been a case of equal brilliance between a director and a screenwriter as there was with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Charlie Kaufman is the screenwriter one approaches when they want something complex, fascinating and a unique vision into the human mind and condition. While he subsquently has gone into directing, Kaufman will always be the person who crafted Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, all films that are the very definition of audacity. There is just something about Kaufman that made his script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so special. He clearly has a mind for science fiction, and an interest in the absurd – yet he also has a clear vision on what makes us so undeniably human, and through strange concepts and otherworldly ideas, he shows us a portrayal of humanity that we rarely see with such clarity, even if it is through the lens of absurdity. Kaufman is an absolute genius and one of the greatest screenwriters working today, and perhaps one of the greatest of all time.
However, Kaufman’s audacious screenplay is only half of what makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind such a masterpiece. The other is Michel Gondry, who directed the film. Gondry is a strange filmmaker, in the best way possible. His directorial vision (garnered, undeniably, through his background in directing music videos) is perfectly compatible with Kaufman. They both have an eye for the absurd, and an inherent interest in human nature. Gondry makes audacious films that are unique in how they balance silliness and surrealism. Gondry is clearly inspired by the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch, but he makes films that are far more optimistic and warmhearted. Between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep, Gondry made a name for himself as a dedicated surrealist filmmaker, and I am shocked he didn’t take off as a bigger name in American filmmaking (perhaps his ill-fated The Green Hornet adaptation played a part). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an absolutely wonderful film and Gondry and Kaufman are geniuses for creating it.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an absolute masterpiece. It is complex and emotionally destructive. This is a film for absolutely anyone that has ever had their heartbroken. This film hit me like an emotional ton of bricks, and I found myself weeping at the sadness residing within this film. It is both an optimistic film, and an utterly heartbreaking story. It is unrelenting in its dedication to showing what heartbreak feels like and how we handle the harsh pain that comes with it. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an unforgettable and beautiful film. The performances, the music and the story make this one of the greatest films of the 21st century. A masterpiece in every sense of the word.