If you could completely remove the memory of someone from your mind, would you want to do it? This is a choice that the two leads of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have to make. After having a trouble spot in their relationship, Clementine (Kate Winslet) decides to remove Joel (Jim Carrey) from her mind. She goes to a clinic to have the fictional procedure done, and it ends up being a success.
After finding out about this, Joel decides to get the procedure done as well, removing Clementine from his memory. The majority of the film follows the maze-like atmosphere that his his mind, jumping between key moments in the couple’s relationship at will. However, Joel is aware that the procedure is taking place, and while it is happening, he begins to have second thoughts. He starts cherishing the time he and Clementine shared, ending up with him fighting to keep the memories that he wished erased.
Does it work? Does he get to keep his memories? Does it really matter? The only question I’ll answer is the final one, and that answer is a definite “no”. Even if he manages to stave off the machine that the doctors are using, it won’t matter. Clementine already had the procedure done, and it was successful. He even meets her before having the procedure done, and she has no recollection of their time together. I ended up asking myself the question “Will it really matter?” all throughout Eternal Sunshine.
Despite this constant questioning, and the fact that it doesn’t really matter, Eternal Sunshine still manages to work. It doesn’t have much tension, as we already have a good idea of how it’ll end, but it does manage to stay entertaining. Confusing, certainly, but entertaining. This is because of the strong leads, and the way that the story is told.
The story is told primarily in the dreams and memories of Joel. The only two characters that are actually in these dreams are Joel and Clementine, and this means that we get a lot of development on their side. We get to know almost everything about these characters, as we are unrestricted by the restraints of society. Everything it in Joel’s mind, and we are witnessing exactly what happened. There is no unreliable narrator, or hidden agendas to the characters; everything they say and do is true to their nature.
This characterization is further brought out by the good acting job done by the leads. Jim Carrey, in another dramatic role, plays the every-man kind of character well. Winselt is also quite impressive, playing an eccentric and crazy character. The supporting cast is not quite as good, but they aren’t bad. They just don’t get enough screen-time to work with in order to develop.
The story is interesting, and yet it is quite confusing if you aren’t paying attention. By “attention”, I mean “really close attention”, because if you don’t, you will be really confused by Eternal Sunshine. If you do start to get lost, you will not get much chance to get back on track, which is a shame. The story is told through Joel’s memories, which switch back and forth in both its time and in what happens. Memories begin disappearing, mangling with one another and jumping all over the place. It is a lot to keep track of, so you’ll need to focus on it and only on it while you watch it.
Even though it is an interesting film, there are some things that don’t work all that well. There is a sub-plot introduced quite late into the film which serves only to help tie up the ending. The story itself can be quite difficult to follow, even if you are paying really close attention. The side characters also don’t develop nearly as much as you’d like them to, as the film really is the “Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet Show”. There just isn’t enough time where neither of these characters appears on the screen, especially with the aforementioned, tacked-on sub-plot.
I do wonder, however, about the procedure used within Eternal Sunshine. Would it be legal, if it was possible? Would anyone actually want to use it? Either way, the film could be an excellent informational film regarding it. You are given an emotional core, one that you can project on to. You can also witness the potential effects that such a procedure would have on your life. It works incredibly well in this regard, and makes me wonder if the already staggering popularity of this film would increase if such a technology was created.
Eternal Sunshine isn’t a bad film, but I don’t think it’s worthy of the praise it has been given. It has too many issues to be a great film, but that doesn’t stop it from being exciting. The story is told in an interesting, albeit confusing manner, while the main characters are all developed well. We don’t really have to care about whether or not Joel will fight and win against his memory deletion, but that doesn’t stop the flashbacks in his mind from being entertaining.