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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Collector’s Edition DVD Review

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Collector’s Edition

June 30, 2005

Director: Michel Gondry,
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Gerry Robert Byrne, Elijah Wood, Thomas Jay Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jane Adams, David Cross, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Ryan Whitney, Debbon Ayer, Amir Ali Said, Brian Price, Paul Litowsky, ,

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DVD Review

Filmmaker Michel Gondry must be a firm believer in the old saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” His feature film debut was the Charlie Kaufman-penned Human Nature (2001) that, by most accounts, was simply awful. Maybe Gondry just didn’t connect with the material or figure out a way to bring it successfully to life. His second feature and second crack at a Kaufman screenplay, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), was met, initially, with trepidation. By most accounts, he’s directed one of the most original films in years.

Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Winslet) meet and fall in love. As sometimes happens with couples, they fall out of love and break-up. However, she decides to literally wipe the slate clean and have all memories of him erased. So, he seeks out the company that did the erasing—Lacuna, Inc.—and have his own memories of her erased from his mind. As the process occurs, Joel starts to have second thoughts and tries to stop the process before all the memories of Clementine—good and bad—are gone forever. However, he has become a prisoner in his own mind.

Kaufman’s screenplay poses a tantalizing question: who wouldn’t want to erase the painful memories in their life? However, it is these memories—good or bad—that inform who we are and are a part of the human experience. In Eternal Sunshine you can’t just erase the bad stuff, everything about that relationship is zapped. These are concepts (stolen identities, fake vs. real memories) that come right out of the fiction of legendary science fiction author, Philip K. Dick.

The way Gondry visualizes this erasure is quite clever. Joel actually experiences his memories of Clementine being erased. People, objects and entire places disappear before his very eyes. He can also hear the two technicians (Ruffalo and Wood) as disembodied voices, talking as they perform the job on him. Gondry, a noted music video director (of such diverse musicians as Bjork and the White Stripes), has a keen visual eye and fills his movie with striking images. Joel and Clementine lie on the ice, looking up at the sky with a huge crack, like a starburst, at their feet. Or during one erasure moment, Joel wakes up with Clementine in a bed on a cold, snow-swept beach.

Jim Carrey demonstrates that his nuanced performance in The Truman Show (1998) was not a fluke. He acts without his usual compliment of zany comedic shtick and acting tics. He plays Joel as a sweet guy who is polite and withdrawn. He just wants what we all do: to be happy and to be loved. Kate Winslet is also wonderful as Clementine, an assertive, sometimes abrasive woman not afraid to speak her mind. The scenes between her and Carrey are sometimes embarrassingly intimate and personal as if we are spying on them.

Special Features:

The Collector’s Edition comes with an attractive booklet filled with glossy photos and excerpts from enthusiastic reviews praising the movie.

The first disc starts with “A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a promo with soundbite interviews and clips from the movie. The cast and crew talk about the characters and the unique nature of the script.

“A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry” is an entertaining dialogue between the two men mixed with rehearsal footage. They talk about the hardest day of the shoot when they got into a heated argument that they can laugh about now.

There is an audio commentary by Gondry and Kaufman. They had pitched the idea for the movie as early as 1998 and not surprisingly had a tough time finding a studio willing to take a chance. Kaufman talks about how painful it is for the writer to be left out of the filmmaking process and how he enjoyed working with Spike Jonze (on Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Gondry because they included him.

There are seven minutes of deleted scenes. Unfortunately, there is no context for the footage of a commentary track to explain why they were cut out. It almost simulates the mind erosion that Joel experiences in the movie. What do these scenes mean?

There is a music video for “Light and Day” by Polyphonic Spree that tweaks footage from the movie in an unsettling way.

There is also a funny commercial for Lacuna, Inc., the fictitious company that erases people’s memories.

The second disc begins with “Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry”, a 20-minute look at the director’s creative process. It is amazing how much of the film’s more fantastical images were done without CGI, just good ol’ fashioned editing, lighting or forced perspective shots.

“Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue” examines how a specific scene was put together, mostly through CGI with the sound effects and score explored in detail.

“A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Director Michel Gondry” is a dialogue between the actress and the filmmaker. She was surprised that Gondry cast her as she was known mostly for reserved period dramas.

Finally, there are almost 19-minutes of additional deleted or extended footage. Mostly, it is bits and pieces that were trimmed from existing scenes. We even see Joel’s previous girlfriend, Naomi, who is only mentioned in the final cut.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film about how precious our memories are and how we should savour them while we can because our minds erase them gradually over time on their own anyway. Kaufman has established an ingenious premise: the notion of selectively erasing your memories and reliving a relationship again and again. The story actually starts at the end and works its way back—think of a romantic comedy version of Memento (2000).

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 98%

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