View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, March 21, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

The strength of Charlie Kaufman's scripts is that they start with a strong setting and overall structure, and insert a peculiar conceipt that he carries to its logical, and unrepeatable, conclusion. Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and not Eternal Sunshine all set up normal beginnings, warped by a single, surreal fact. In this case, it's the idea that each participant in a love affair gone south chooses to wipe his and her mind clean of the other.

Midway through the process, Joel decides he doesn't want to go through with it, and tries, unconscious, to protect his memories of Clementine. So much of the film takes place inside Joel's mind as the process regressively erases Clem from his memory. The movie graphically captures the associative, rather than linear, quality of memory. And as we wander through Joel's memory, we also see the way that we project ourselves-as-we-are-now back onto our memories of who we once were.

The name of the film comes from Alexander Pope's poem Eloisa to Abelard. The theme of the poem, like that of the movie, is the unattainable desire to forget. Unlike, "The Way We Were," we can't simply choose to forget. Even the external erasing process, the movie implies, is imperfect. I saw the movie in a multiplex, indicating a wide release targeting a more general audience. Much of the audience will be drawn in by the star power of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Will they know the difference between Alexander Pope and "Pope, Alexander?"

If I have one complaint, it would be the language. I'm not so much of a prude that I can't handle the worst of cursing, but I'd like for it to have a point. I found that I already cared enough about the characters, already sympathized with the intensity of their emotions, and the f--- and s--- words didn't make me any more empathetic. In fact, it detracted from my sympathy by giving the characters less class.

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