Clever ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ gets treated well with collector’s edition DVD

[rating=3]Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson
Director(s): Michel Gondry
Writer(s): Story by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Busmuth; Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

This was one of those films that came to me highly recommended by several people. For some reason, however, I dragged my feet in reviewing this DVD. The funny thing was my sister-in-law had recently loaned us her copy of the movie, which was the original single-disc release. But when I got the collector’s edition for review, I still dragged my feet.

Why? I don’t have a clue.

Either way, the recent snow fall allowed me to finally get caught up and watch several of the DVDs I’ve had sitting on my desk. The first one was, of course, the new collector’s edition 2-disc set of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Featuring Jim Carrey as Joel, an average, shy guy who meets an outgoing and slightly zany chick named Clementine, played by Kate Winslet. The two fall in love, but over time the relationship goes sour, and the two of them break up. Now, normally that would be enough, but Clementine goes the extra distance by have the memory of Joel completely erased from her mind.

When Joel finds out what his ex-girlfriend has done, he goes to the same clinic to get the same procedure. We then learn about the relationship between these two lonely hearts as Joel’s memories are slowly erased. And when he changes his mind and decides he wants to stop, he struggles to fight against the machine that is erasing his past.

That’s pretty much as simple an explanation of the film I can give. The plot itself is not particularly complicated, but the story is told out of order, and features a lot of mind twisting and location jumping that may confuse people. You really have to be paying attention to follow it. There are also very subtle moments throughout the film that are easily missed if you’re not keeping an eye on the screen at all times.

There are some subplots here, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go too deep into them. Mostly because they are the worst part of the movie.

Had Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind focused solely on the relationship between Joel and Clementine, I think this film would have been much better. It is in that exploration where the heart of the movie lies, and its also where all the interesting details exist. Once the story goes off the reservation and explores the minor characters, it falters, chiefly because none of them are terribly likable and you don’t really care about what happens to any of them.

Okay, I’ll explain a little.

The doctor’s office consists of an array of characters, such as Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst. Ruffalo is the technician who performs the procedure on Joel to erase his memory. Wood is his assistant, and Dunst is the office’s secretary. In order to clear Clementine from Joel’s memory, Ruffalo and Wood drug him and spend the night in his apartment destroying the select memories.

While there, Wood sneaks off because he’s taken advantage of the memory-challenge Clementine; and Ruffalo and Dunst get drunk and high and have sex, all while Joel is asleep in his bed.

Follow that?

Yeah, it’s pretty convoluted. But ultimately the challenge here is that the characters are all just jerky people. I’m not sure why anyone would care or like any of them, and as a result they serve as a distraction from the story that has some real emotion to it — the struggle of Joel to keep his memories of Clementine. It is here and only here that the story offers any real drama. It is also here where the film’s incredible visuals come through.

I was surprised by how much I actually liked Jim Carrey in this film. I don’t particularly find him to be a very good actor, at least in dramas. Generally, he always over acts. But here he captured a level of subtly that I thought beyond him. Kate Winslet also offers a beautifully natural performance. She has been one of a handful of actresses whom I really enjoy watching, and here she helps make Clementine come to life with smart precision.

The visual style of the film is absolutely impressive. Regardless of the story’s weaknesses, the visuals make it interesting to watch. From the use of the camera to the disappearing signs, it’s all pretty incredible. Never before has a dream-like atmosphere been captured on film with such accuracy. I’m honestly not sure that director Michel Gondry should win an Oscar, but he definitely deserved a nomination for his work here, since the style was so effectively guided by him.

This two-disc collector’s edition features some of the basics, such as deleted scenes and behind the scenes documentaries, but they are probably some of the best I’ve seen in some time. The deleted scenes are actually interesting to watch, because there are whole storylines and plot elements that were left on the cutting room floor. But my favorite featurette was the breakdown of one scene in the film.

The documentary explores how the scene was constructed, from the camera work to the special effects, and it’s one of the most interesting visual scenes in the film. What made this featurette so interesting was because the process to achieve the shot was almost as interesting as the scene itself.

I think it is unlikely this film will win most of the Oscars it was nominated for, with one exception: Writing. The screenplay is imaginative, and I think makes it a good shot for the award. However, the poor development of the minor characters may hinder its chances.

Rated: R
Run Time: 1 hr., 48 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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