Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind Movie Review

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Having dabbled in John Malkovich's mind in "Being John Malkovich," then delved into his own neurotic noggin in "Adaptation," ingeniously idiosyncratic screenwriter Charlie Kaufman wraps his head around themes of lucid-dreaming and lost love in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and once again hits the Freudian jackpot.

A melancholy metaphysical romance about how human beings are the sum of their experiences, this distinctively surreal, meditative fable takes place largely inside the rapidly dissolving memories of a dejected sad sack named Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who hopes to end a crippling case of heartbreak by having his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) electronically expunged from his cerebellum in a makeshift CAT-scan procedure performed by a dubious back-alley doctor (Tom Wilkinson) and his nerdy house-call technicians.

To augment the film's sublimely disorienting narrative -- parts of which run backwards as Joel's discordant recent memories are boiled away before his more melodious earlier ones -- director Michel Gondry opens with an unsteady shot of Joel wobbling out of his unfolded sofa-bed on Valentine's Day 2004, the morning after his selective lobotomy.

Disoriented, downcast, and inexplicably compelled to visit a Long Island beach on this frigid February day, he meets an alluringly prickly blue-haired girl (Kate Winslet) -- and soon "Sunshine" (the title comes from an Alexander Pope poem) is juggling their curious attraction with the curiouser events of the previous night, during which two techies (Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood) blunder their plunder of Joel's frustrating, furious and fond recollections...of the very same girl.

But during the erasure of their broken romance from his gray matter (while in a drug-educed deep sleep that February 13 night), Joel has a dream-state change of heart. Inside his subconscious, he seeks out a disintegrating apparition of his blue-tressed Clementine (Winslet), and together they conspire to hide her in the deepest recesses of his mind -- places the doctor's brain-scouring flunkies hopefully won't think to look.

Gondry (who helmed Kaufman's "Human Nature" in 2002 with less success) lends the movie a discombobulating, highly personal, single-camera ambiance as he intricately interlaces Joel's mad dash through his melding, melting memories (symbolized by creative blurring and pull-focus imagery) with overlapping events in the real world -- namely that his mental mish-mashing has set off medical alarms and panicked the lackadaisical technicians.

Carrey is at his Method best in "Sunshine," completely submerged in Joel's battered, bemused psyche as he fights his own ironic defeatism to rescue his memories of Clementine -- be they euphoric, erotic or anguished. Winslet matches Carrey emotion for erratic emotion, from frustrating heartbreak to wistful adoration as their relationship is deconstructed in reverse -- starting with the excruciating revelation that kicks off the plot: Clementine had Joel erased from her memory first.

The supporting cast is exceptional as well, each adding peculiar facets to the plot, including one technician's unethical attempt to seduce the memory-wiped Clementine using mementos and romantic recollections stolen from Joel as psychological fish hooks, and an unexpected twist involving the doctor's receptionist, played by Kirsten Dunst with delicate hints of emotional instability that point to something subliminally amiss in her mind as well.

But it isn't the cunning intricacy of the screenplay, the fancifully fractured psychology or even the shrewd dark humor that make this movie -- it's the insightful emotional candor that Kaufman brings to this story of two people who may be truly fated for each other, but for whom happiness does not come easily or forever after.

Charlie Kaufman may be the only screenwriter in the world who's a bigger draw for his movies than the actors that star in them -- and it's no wonder when he can take you on such an uncanny, cerebrally emotional fun-house ride as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, WIDE: Friday, March 19, 2004

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