Love Never Changes Its Spots

[Editor’s note: as always, the opinions expressed by Joe Moser, my contributor at large, are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Olive Press … boilerplate boilerplate … As with his previous piece and the piece before that, this review covers something I haven’t seen, so I’m in no position to concur or critique.]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has the best cast of any movie I’ve seen in a long time. Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo all have central roles, and if you’re a fan of any of these actors you’ll want to do yourself a favor and see this film. Even Elijah Wood ties into a weaselly role that perfectly suits him, and Tom Wilkinson and comedian David Cross also have nice supporting parts.

Needless to say, if you’re a fan of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, run, cantor, or at least trot down to your local artsy cinema as soon as time permits. I have my qualms with Mr. Kaufman, but they are always overcome by the exuberant satisfaction I get from watching writer-driven films, which are in short supply, especially in the post-auteur, George Lucas/Jerry Bruckheimer era. However, if you’re like Frank Swietek of ONE GUY’S OPINION, you might have had your fill of this writer and regard Eternal Sunshine as, “Another unpleasantly glib, shallow demonstration of Kaufman’s self-satisfied cleverness, further marred by failed pretensions to profundity about romantic destiny.”

As for me, I’m more inclined to side with Peter Travers, who declares Sunshine, “A remarkable film that can coax a smile about making the same mistakes in love and then sneak up and quietly break your heart.” Though I’ve supremely enjoyed the three other Kaufman-penned films I’ve seen–Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, and Adaptation (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the one I’ve missed)–his tendency toward misanthropy is mainly what keeps me from revisiting them. In particular, I find BJM, though amazingly complex and funny, a terribly depressing movie full of overwhelmingly desperate and deplorable characters. Eternal Sunshine showcases Kaufman at his most optimistic, as the film exhibits faith, not in “romantic destiny,” so much as romantic possibility–that people can retain their good memories, while confronting the dark corners of past relationships and refusing to repeat their mistakes.

As much as this film recalls Kaufman’s other work, while watching it I was most reminded of The Truman Show. In both movies, Jim Carrey plays a man trying to break out of an artificial, inhumanly ideal world. While The Truman Show depicts his struggle to escape a sealed, TV-produced identity and landscape, Eternal Sunshine has him fighting to maintain his sense of self in a culture paradoxically obsessed with memory and forgetting. In this world, memories have become so essential, yet so oppressive, that eradicating them through a “procedure that really is brain damage” becomes a desirable option.

Carrey and Winslet both give particularly amazing, dynamic performances, seamlessly blending wacky humor, vengeful spite and childlike vulnerability, as Kaufman’s script demands. Though the film at times seems abstruse and somewhat punishing to watch, as the writer’s other films often do, I left marveling at how deceptively simple its statement really is. Love is not perfect: it’s no more spotless than the minds of any two given people.