Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Joel (Carrey) goes through a painful breakup with Clementine (Winslet), learns that she's gone through a medical procedure to erase him from her memory, and decides to have the same procedure done to himself to erase her. Halfway through the overnight exercise of doing so, he realises he doesn't want to forget.

On paper, it sounds like a low key science fiction mindbender. But several things make it a little more. The most surprising performance of the century by Jim Carrey, the ethereal and worldly beauty of Kate Winslet, the brilliantly fractured storytelling of Charlie Kaufman, and the production design and vision chosen and executed to perfection by Michel Gondry and his team.

The result is brilliant, in every sense and every aspect, from the story to the cinematography, from the characters to the acting, the production design to the realism and the relationships to the conclusion.

It could have been just a good story, or just well designed or acted, or just a fantastic idea - much of the time only certain aspects of movies are good while others let them down.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind makes you realise how many different aspects there are to making a movie, so many different crafts, contributed by people from writers and actors to set decorators, because for the first time in a long time, every one of those crafts has been executed flawlessly.

We meet Joel, a quiet, reserved and unhappy thirtysomething when he decides to ditch work and get the train to a New York beachside on impulse where he meets the intriguing Clementine. They happen to get the same train back to the city, and she approaches him to strike up a conversation, whereupon they realise an attraction and decide to try and see each other again.

After the then-sudden credits sequence (almost ten minutes into the movie and an effective way of traversing time), we've seemingly fast forwarded a few years and Joel and Clem are miserable; they can't get along, they're both feeling trapped and their relationship is in bad shape.

After a fight, Kate leaves. Joel seeks her out at work to try to give her a present and reconcile, and bizarrely, she apparently doesn't know him.

First of all, it's not anything like it sounds. Using a non-linear storytelling style the same way Quentin Tarantino would - skipping back and forth in time - it focuses on the drama, paying scant attention to details a Hollywood blockbuster about mind erasure would make a big deal of and making it all the classier.

When a good friend breaks down and tells Joel the truth - that Clem has used a company who erases memories to wipe all knowledge of Joel from her life - Joel himself goes for the same treatment.

Collecting up everything in his life that reminds him of her, he takes it along and goes into an innocuous-looking surgery where they map his brain for memories of her.

Returning home, he is drugged, collapses, and the scientific team come into his apartment, hook him up to their machines, and begin the night-long process of wiping Clementine from his life.

Another point of brilliance is the low-key atmosphere of the whole thing. The staff of Lacuna (the company that erases Joel's memory) aren't the white coated nerds with billion dollar equipment they'd be in an action movie.

Played by Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo, they're as three dimensional as the lead characters in the way they behave, their concerns, their dress sense and their personalities. And the subplots concerning them (and this is a major achievement) add to the story instead of detracting from the plight of the leads.

Here again is where the production design and cinematography triumph. They don't wheel in mountains of clanky silver machinery with flashing lights. The goofball technicians, Wood and Ruffalo, have to put a steel colander on Joel's head, connected to a tangled mass of cords to a laptop computer from which they zap each memory of Clementine as it arises on the map.

Mary (Dunst) shows up and they proceed to party, eating Joel's food, laying round talking, sharing a joint, dancing in their underwear, while Patrick (Wood) skips work to be with his new girlfriend (Clementine, in an ironic twist, who he's fallen for during the process of erasing her memory and is wooing using Joel's lines and presents for her).

At the same time, we enter Joel's head as the memories are being drawn out and zapped from his brain, and he embarks on an astounding journey through his life with Clementine, realising he's made a mistake and trying to escape with her intact so he doesn't forget her.

It's during these sequences that Gondry's direction staggers the senses, as Joel's memories morph and overlap on screen - he stumbles out of bed in his apartment onto the sand of beach he met Clementine, he leaves her bookstore work place after she doesn't recognise him and walks through a door straight into his own home. Sequences like this would have taken the most amazing set design, and they're delivered with such subtlety they're all the more powerful.

Desperately clutching his final memories of Clem as the team in his apartment work through the night to erase them, Joel finds himself at their actual first meeting, at a party on the beach where he first saw Clementine in the beginning of the movie.

As such, we learn that his meeting of her didn't happen the way we think it did - the first scenes are actually their second meeting, after their memories of each other have been erased. It's in his mind that Clem tells him to take the day off work and travel to that very beach where they'll meet for the second time, with no knowledge they ever knew each other.

It plays with your head in the same way the finale to 2001's Planet of the Apes did - if they didn't meet the first time (as Joel remembers, he chickened out and virtually fled from her), how did they get together and how can they share a history he's spent the night getting erased?

Carrey's performance finally hits the nail on the head he was aiming for in roles like The Truman Show and The Majestic – that is, ones that would garner him some dramatic credibility. Winslet is gorgeous and vibrant as the impulsive and free spirited Clementine, and every supporting cast member construct a wholly rounded personality to interact with the story.

It could have been a straight-shooting science fiction movie, it could have been a doco/indie-style navel-gazer full of images but no story, and from the mind of Kaufman and the eye of Gondry it's the best of both. Combined with spot on costuming, realistic dialogue, natural acting from some fine performers and a lot of visual trimmings that heighten the sense of the weird, it's as close to the perfect movie as there's been in ages.

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