"How happy is the blamelss Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot:
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned."
I enjoy a lot of movies, but rare is the movie that makes me think, "Ooh, I wish I had made that movie. I could have made that movie (if I were that clever and inspired)!" The last time I felt that was watching Lost in Translation.
I had that feeling tonight, about midway through a screening of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's some kind of brilliant! Charlie Kaufman proves yet again that he is the most creative lunatic of a screenwriter working today, and director Michel Gondry fulfills the promise he displayed in his music videos (which I love; you can catch them on this DVD from the very cool Director's Series) and his movie directorial debut Human Nature.
ESOTSM is the type of movie I'm ready to see again as soon as I walk out the theater. In this case, the second time through will be an attempt to detect all the clues I missed the first time around--it's a mind bender. It's also a clever comedy and a playful riff on the nature of love and memory. Gondry capitalizes on Kaufman's conceit that one can selectively erase memories to produce some of most humorous visual metaphors on film: as memories are erased, people and objects literally lose color and then fade away or disappear or crumble. Occasionally memories merge, leading to some visual juxtapositions that act as sight gags.
This is not the type of science fiction that stands up to heavy scrutiny, even if you are optimistic about the advances in neuroscience. The idea that one's memories can be selectively purged is merely the launching pad for a series of intriguing meditations. If all our worst memories of a former lover were erased, would we fall in love with that person again? Is attraction then fated and not merely the product of context and environment? If you knew how another person had successfully wooed a girl, could you borrow those strategies and also win her heart? Is forgetfulness truly bliss?
Only two minor quibbles. One is that Jim Carrey doesn't convey true heartbreak and longing in the same way that, say, John Cusack did in Say Anything. But he's by no means a weak link, the rest of the cast is uniformly strong, especially the gifted Kate Winslet. Secondly, I agree with Anthony Lane that the movie could have ended just a tad earlier, when it had just finished cycling back on itself like a Mobius strip.
Movies like this are expensive loves. First there's the movie ticket. Then I'll have to own the soundtrack. And the script. Of course, inevitably, I'll buy the DVD. I could have all memories of the movie erased from my mind, but I suspect I'd just end up stumbling in to see it again, and then I'd be sitting here writing to tell you, for the second time, that it's the first great movie of 2004.
P.S.: Michel Gondry also directed the video for Polyphonic Spree's "Light and Day/Reach for the Sun" from the ESOTSM soundtrack. Like the movie, it's bloody fun.
UPDATE: Look at all the 100's from the critics! Just one mediocre review thus far.