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"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Review

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Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Directed by: Michel Gondry

Rating: R for language, some drug use and sexual content.


Review by Stephen Silver

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, I aver, is obsessed with the human mind. Two of his five produced screenplays have had the word "mind" in the title, a third was about characters jumping into the mind of actor John Malkovich, the fourth explored the nature vs. nurture debate, and the fifth concerned a 50/50 mental split between the screenwriter himself and his fictional younger brother.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Kaufman's latest, is the greatest achievement of the five and the best movie of the new year- Kaufman and director Michel Gondry have created the anti-"Vanilla Sky," a "mind-bender" that eschews unnatural plot twists in favor of ironic realism, and nails the aftershock-dynamics of a failed romance like no film since "Annie Hall."

Kaufman is perhaps best known for his two collaborations with director Spike Jonze, 1999's "Being John Malkovich" and 2002's "Adaptation," the latter of which featured Kaufman himself as the lead character. 'Malkovich' was rightly proclaimed brilliant by most who saw it, but "Adaptation" was disappointing and quite overrated, always working better as an idea for a movie than as an actual movie. Much better was Kaufman's fantasy Chuck Barris biopic "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which came out weeks after "Adaptation" and was directed by George Clooney, who alternately ripped off styles and actual shots from the films of his frequent collaborators Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers.

Gondry, like Jonze a noted music-video director who is known for his work with Bjork, the White Stripes, and others, previously collaborated with the writer on 2002's "Human Nature," a generally middling film that did feature some scattered brilliance. This time around, Kaufman's script gives Gondry even more opportunities to infuse 'Eternal Sunshine' with all sorts of amazing visuals, and he doesn't disappoint.

Jim Carrey- looking completely comfortable for the first time in a dramatic role- stars as Joel, a shy New Yorker who wakes up one day and is overcome with an inexplicable desire to board a train for Montauk, on the far end of Long Island. Eventually we learn that he has split up from a long-term, cataclysmic relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet), and that Clementine has undergone a revolutionary new procedure that has removed all memories of Joel from her brain. So Joel decides to have the same surgery done himself.

The film's brilliant trailer, scored to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," gave the impression that Carrey has the procedure done at the beginning of the film, and the rest is what results. In fact, the centerpiece of the film is a sequence, lasting more than an hour, in which we see inside Carrey's head, during the surgery. This gives us some beautifully creepy and nonsensical images, from a bed on the beach to bookshelves in an apartment to Winslet's strangely rotating hair colors.

But even more impressively, this device brings us to the best thing about 'Eternal Sunshine'- like no other movie I've ever seen, it captures perfectly the nearly universal sensation of having left a long-term relationship, and alternately missing the good things while regretting the bad. Winslet, whose career had been gradually deteriorating for the six years since she starred in the highest-grossing film of all time, makes Clementine alternately irresistible and intolerable, and hits every right note.

There are also strong supporting turns from Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst as employees of the lab that does the surgery, and Tom Wilkinson as the doctor. And best of all, the film keeps the plot twists to a minimum, content to trust its audience and keep the "mind-bending" literal.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is similar to the 2001 Tom Cruise flop "Vanilla Sky" in that it's a modern-day romance that enlists futuristic medical surgery as a plot device. But what keeps it up from 'Sky''s fate is that 'Eternal Sunshine' transcends its gimmick, and never veers off the rails in search of one more plot twist. Most importantly, it's about the romance more than about the medical stuff- which is what keeps one riveted from start to finish.

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