Who knows how the human mind works? No one does really. But Charlie Kaufman comes pretty close to showing us the intricacies of this complex, magical structure in his latest saunter inside that least treaded of concealed places.
That journey is necessitated by Joel (Jim Carrey), distressed because he has just broken up with Clementine (Kate Winslet, bright as a spark here), and to his utter disdain, discovered that she has had him erased from her memory via a quick and effective process of mental amputation, a new fad offering great comfort and relief for the broken hearted. February is apparently a busy month owing to the onset of Valentines Day and soon Joel is in queue with the severely traumatized to have his head wiped clean of his bittersweet romance. Leading the procedure is Doctor Howard (Tom Wilkinson) of Lacuna Inc. and his team of disorderly assistants (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst) and the resulting chaos creates not just one of best movies about the grief of the broken hearted, but also one of the most ingeniously written.
A hallmark of Kaufman's work has always been his remarkable ability to engender audience sympathy for his characters and here I was truly able to feel the trappings of the restrictions imposed by an aware mind without control over its limp body. The effect is strongest when Joel, having erased much of the bitter memories of his past, comes to the point where he first met with Clementine, arguably, the most memorable part of any relationship, even the most acrid ones, and wants to exit his head and end the procedure.
Some truly bizarre moments occur when Joel visits his own memories while they are in the process of erasure. He walks through them, like a silent unsought visitor at a party, and bit by precious bit, all of it disintegrates into nothingness. During these moments he is also able to unwillingly eavesdrop on the conversations that others are having around him while he is unconscious and undergoing the intricate procedure. The effect is like visually experiencing doses of madness and genius intermixed.
Screenplay after screenplay, Kaufman continues to amaze. His themes about the workings of the human mind are scintillating and invigorating. They carry around them a perfect idea about relationships, human loss and the innate difficulty in dealing with them. Sombre and cold, but never bleak, unlike the weather in which it is set, 'Eternal Sunshine' is similar in tone to Paul Thomas Anderson's lovely 'Punch Drunk Love' and Jon Brion's moody score only cements this comparison.
Like 'Vanilla Sky' before it, 'Eternal Sunshine' is part of a new breed of science fiction that is grounded in the themes and settings of raw humanity and isn't really about the technology. The science in these films is only used to explore a world beyond the limitations of human life. In that process, this journey about trying to forget, via a trip down memory lane becomes in itself an unforgettable experience at the movies. - Faizan Rashid