February 8, 2005

Eternall Original

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I have to begin by congratulating the outstanding New England Patriots, Super Bowl champions once again. As a Boston sports fan, these past four months have been magical. But now that the big game and its facetious monkey-filled commercials are in the past, everyone can turn their collective attention to the next prominent American event. No, not this week’s episode of The OC, but the Oscars, the Super Bowl of awards shows that is now less than three weeks away.

Last time, I wrote about Mike Nichols’s poignant film Closer, which I thought deserved a nomination for its screenplay by Patrick Marber. Nevertheless, my other favorite script of the year, Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was indeed nominated — and deservedly so.

Eternal Sunshine is an innovative story about a young man named Joel (Jim Carrey, in the finest performance of his career) who is distressed to learn that his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), has undergone a modernistic medical procedure to erase him entirely from her memory. Joel then agrees to undergo the same process, but as his memories begin to be erased, he realizes that perhaps he does not want to forget her after all.

Much of the film takes place inside Joel’s mind, as he journeys through his memories of Clementine, and as he tries desperately to hold on to them. Meanwhile, the procedure is conducted by a cast of peculiar characters, played by Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood. They provide piquant subplots that intertwine with the main storyline brilliantly. Without them, the script simply wouldn’t work.

In Eternal Sunshine, Kaufman displays an intimate appreciation for the intricacies, possibilities and hazards of the human mind. Through the perception of Joel’s memories, we see Joel and Clementine in the past, when they sincerely loved each other. Joel, who is utterly powerless to stop the memory erasure procedure from taking place at this point, tries adamantly to keep some of his memories of Clementine in his mind. It is not unlike the feeling one gets when waking up from a pleasing dream, trying to recollect the details before the memory of it all slips away.

Perhaps the greatest element of Eternal Sunshine is its intelligence and its awareness of how memories tend to operate. Joel’s memories of Clementine are based just as much on his perception of her as on reality itself. Instead of remembering the hurtful moments that led to their separation, he finds himself consumed with his cherished memories of her. Whether or not these memories are entirely accurate, Kaufman shows that the impulsiveness that led Joel and Clementine to erase each other from their minds is tragically needless. There were plenty of reasons for them to be happy together. They had just forgotten. Kaufman suggests that relationships will have their natural oscillations, and that the progression of a relationship from initial infatuation to a more relaxed type of affection is not a bad thing.

The script is bittersweet, and the final scene is touching. Even if Joel’s memories of Clementine are subjective and transformed by his experiences and emotions, they are worth saving. And that’s how memories work. The romantic insight of the story exceeds that of any film in a long time, as we come to believe that, when Joel and Clementine serendipitously find each other again, they may be soulmates after all.

Kaufman trusts the audience as well, relying on us to keep track of the meandering timeline of memories as we ourselves join Joel in becoming consumed by them. Also, the film’s ending, which I won’t reveal, can be interpreted at least two different ways depending on the viewer’s perspective. This confidence in the audience makes the screenplay even more refreshing.

If the film’s script seems poetic at times, perhaps this is not by accident. One of Kaufman’s primary inspirations comes from an Alexander Pope poem entitled “Eloisa to Abelard,” the lines of which read: “How happy is the blameless vesta’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.” Kaufman took these lines and, with his inventive imagination, wrote the finest screenplay of 2004. Ironically enough, it is completely unforgettable.

Archived article by Avash Kalra
Sun Staff Writer