Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Just what I’ve come to expect from Charlie Kaufman, that is, a mind-stretching exercise in fractured reality. This is even better than Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote in The Chicago Reader: “Only once in a blue moon does a screenwriter who isn’t a director become known as an auteur. Plenty of distinctive movie writers have reputations as actors or as actor-directors, starting with such giants as D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Erich von Stroheim, but they’re rarely celebrated for their writing. You have to go back to Robert Towne, who’s done only a little directing, and Paddy Chayefsky, who never did anything but write and produce, to find auteurs known mainly as writers.” He’s right. I’d add Preston Sturges to the list, known for his scripts before he became director. You look at a movie written by Sturges, Chayefsky, or Kaufman, and you know it right away.
I’m not going to reveal the many plot entanglements that will be delightful for you to discover yourself, if you haven’t seen the movie. The premise: It is possible to selectively erase memories of people or events you no longer wish to remember. Joel finds that the woman he has loved and broken up with, Clementine, has done that. She no longer knows who he is. Enraged, he decides to have it done himself. One of the best lines: “Is there any danger of … brain damage?” “Well, technically, the process is brain damage. About like a bad weekend drunk.” In the middle of the process (carried out by a crew of negligent technicians in Joel’s home), he changes his mind. His universe is vanishing, and he tries to retreat with his memories of Clementine into his childhood. But at last his memories are wiped.
Then, each of them finds out what has happened, each of them hears the other one’s tape of all the things they hate about each other. Joel still wants to try again. Clementine points out that they know they are wrong for each other, they’ve already proved it. Their love is doomed to failure.
Joel says, “Okay.” Clementine says, “Okay.”
In other words love, even doomed love, is better than the alternative.