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Kino Korner April 29, 2004
 
It's the Drugs, Stupid
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
 

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

There's something particularly depressing about Jim Carrey's opening monologue in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The movie begins, as Charlie Kaufman's are wont to, with a whiny protagonist bitching about his shortcomings -- nobody loves him, he can't talk to women, he doesn't remember the last worthwhile thing he's done. But, whereas Nicolas Cage was fat and really looked pitiable while giving the same speech in Adaptations, Carrey here seems to be appealing to that bulwark demographic of Hollywood -- overweight and miserable women who go in for romantic comedies. There he is, making wrinkly dog poster faces while making sketches and notes in a dairy, asking why is it that he falls in love with every woman with whom he makes eye contact. Then, lo and behold, within five minutes of making the uncharacteristically spontaneous decision to skip work on Valentine's Day and head to some frozen Long Island beach, a zany blue-haired Kate Winslet is prying him out of his shell...

Of course, this is Kaufman you're dealing with, so you know eventually there'll be some sort of twist, even if you haven't read a thing about this flick. But while you can count on Kaufman to throw a few curveballs and introduce some new facets to his characters, it's not like he makes 'em particularly dynamic. So the fact that the couple is repugnant from the get-go is certainly not a good sign. And it's not that you're supposed to hate them; they're trying to be sympathetic romantic comedy stars, and failing.

In fact there's a lot of truth in the characters: Winslet is playing an 'impulsive' Barnes and Nobles clerk who constantly changes the color of her hair, and then brags about it as a defining personality trait. She could be every girl who pierced her nose in college and dabbled in lesbianism. Carrey is a square office drone; if you ignore the whole sketchbook thing, his character would be a believably anonymous corporate slave living in New York's outskirts. Yet for some reason Kaufman doesn't want us to hate them (as he clearly does hate ordinary fuckin' people, given the brutal treatment of Cage's twin brother in Adaptations, or the drive for celebrity in Being John Malkovich), but to care about them, if not like them and bless their union.

So already there's a massive problem with the premise: we're forced to watch a movie that, in spite of its twists and turns, is basically a romantic comedy with cookie-cutter characters intended to make miserable Americans feel better about themselves. Within half an hour the twist has been unveiled: the two had been lovers for two years and were going through a sloppy breakup when Winslet visited a clinic to get her entire memory of the relationship eliminated. Carrey quickly followed suit, and the rest of the movie, excluding a couple of poorly integrated subplots, is about the process of him getting his memory wiped.

When he is getting oriented about the procedure, he is told by the doctor in a line repeated in every single review I read about Eternal Sunshine, "Technically, it is brain damage." They then leave out the second half -- that it's roughly equivalent to a night of heavy drinking. I'm convinced that the reason this line got so much play is because the rest of the movie is so unmemorable. Sure, reviewers raved about the camera work (in spite of the title's promise, most of it is shot with washed out, multiple-source winter light -- how ironic!), the acting and the profundity of the script, but they all picked the same line because no others came to them.

In fact, there were only a few moments I actually remember from the beigist sweep of the movie, and most of those only because they seemed absurd or overacted. One such moment is when we see Carrey violently disoriented, stumbling around his kitchen, after taking a single sleeping pill before the operation. Now, I have no doubt that Carrey has, along with the rest of Hollywood, indulged in the occasional sleeping pill. Clearly he knows that no pill on earth packs that much of a wallop.


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