Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

By the time Oscar nominations roll along, the academy seems to forget about the films released in February and March. That's a shame, because Eternal Sunshine is a terrific movie, and would make a credible and creditable Oscar candidate.

What would you do if the woman you love went to a mind-erasure service and had them remove all traces of you?

Well, I know the answer in real life, but this is the movies.

In real life, you would be sitting in the catbird's seat. Assume your relationship has been having problems. That's why she had her mind erased in the first place, right? Having erased the memory of all those sour moments, she is now free to fall in love with you again, not knowing about the bad times, not remembering the mistakes you made, not aware of some of the ugly things you said in the heat of an argument. You, on the other hand, are aware of the erasure, know what went wrong, and if you are a thoughtful person, can avoid the worst problems. You've been given a second chance. 

This movie isn't about that.

That's way too logical and predictable to come from the disordered mind of Charlie Kaufman.

He is an eccentric man, possibly completely mad, as were many of the greatest writers in history. Melville was nutty as a fruitcake. Dostoevsky and Gogol, likewise. Blake? Don't even go there. The advantage of madness is that it pushes a mind to wander where other minds would not go, to invent outside the boundaries of reality. This is not an especially desirable characteristic for a doctor or a judge, but it can be the wellspring of originality for painters and writers. This is precisely what created the old cliché about the thin line between genius and insanity - both geniuses and madmen see what others cannot. Both ignore objective reality and the boundaries of convention. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is one or the other ... or both ... it doesn't really matter.

Kaufman doesn't take the logical, predictable path I followed above, and the very fact that he has no grasp of reality is precisely what makes him so uniquely effective. Reality would have screwed up this story.

When the man in this film finds out that his woman has erased him, instead of viewing it as a fresh opportunity to relive the good times and avoid the mistakes, he thinks that the only way to purge his malaise is to have her erased from his mind as well. The procedure itself takes a few hours, and this film is about what goes on in the man's unconscious mind as his memories are being erased. Somehow, he becomes aware of the erasure process from deep in his drug-induced coma, and he tries to hide some of the good memories from the scientists and technicians who are mapping his brain. He even tries to wake up, as if in a bad dream, and tell them to stop. The technicians have their own issues as well, and get distracted from the process, so the man becomes free - at least temporarily - to poke around in the memories of his romance, and its relationship to other events that made him into the man who entered that romance in the first place.

Along the way, he comes to understand who he is, and why things didn't work out. In the process of doing so, he comes to an understanding that the early promise of a new love is inevitably doomed to face crisis and pain, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on how the partners handle it.

That's an extremely oversimplified summary. The script is filled with nuances, quirks, and interwoven sub-plots, and is sculpted in such a clever way that the film even includes some of the best elements of the mystery and thriller genres.


None of consequence. There is a brief look at Kirsten Dunst's right breast from the side-rear, and a lot of footage dedicated to Dunst dancing in a t-shirt, braless

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman

  • Making-of featurette

  • A conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry

  • Deleted scenes

  • Lacuna infomercial

  • Music video

I confess that I usually get bored by films that have a character wandering in and out of dreams and memories, but I never lost interest in this film for a second. The main deal drove forward at exactly the right pace, with just the right cards hidden. The sub-plots, although sometimes seeming to be irrelevant at the time they were introduced, all served a purpose in the master design.

In a sense, it is a work of great literature that just happens to be in a convenient "genre film" format, ala Blade Runner. It is also remarkably entertaining.

See it.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.7/10 (#93 of all time), Yahoo voters score it a B+.
  • Box Office Mojo. At our press time, it had opened with $8 million on about 1300 screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a B. Well loved by critics and film buffs, it seems to have enough heart and enough entertainment to become a hit as well, but at the point this is written, I can't determine whether it will be a box office success.

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