tek's rating: ½

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (R)
Focus Features; IMDb; Likely Story; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 2004, but I didn't manage to see it until 2013. I definitely always wanted to, though, because the premise just really resonated with me. All I really knew about it was that there was this couple that had their memories of each other erased, and that's something I've always sort of debated in my own mind, whether or not I'd like to do that. Anyway, when I finally did see the movie, it reminded me of various other things, to some extent, such as What Dreams May Come. Um... and the movie also vaguely reminds me of "Total Recall", in a much less actiony way. And it reminds me of a story I wrote once, Valens' Time. And it may have reminded me of other things, but if so, I forgot. I should also say that I changed my mind a bit about where to put my review; before I watched it, I wasn't sure where it would be, but I was thinking maybe "romantic movies," along with some other possibilities. For most of the time I was watching the movie, I was thinking it would just go under "weird." But by the end, I'd come back around to "romantic." It's still weird, though. So... there are links in both places.

Anyway, it begins with a man named Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) waking up in a funk, ditching work, and taking the train to Montauk, for no readily apparent reason. Except it was Valentine's Day, and he was depressed about being alone. He saw a woman on the beach (which was virtually deserted, being winter), but couldn't talk to her. We hear his thoughts in voiceover, and it seems like he has social anxiety (to which I can totally relate). But later, on the train ride home, the woman (played by Kate Winslet) strikes up a conversation with him. She seems a bit weird, but potentially in a cool way. Her name is Clementine Kruczynski. Joel seems uncomfortable, but he's nice, so he does his best to respond to her. And they end up going out and having some fun together.

It's about 15 minutes into the movie before the opening credits start, and at that point Joel is obviously distraught. It seems like an unspecified amount of time has passed since the first scenes, as his relationship with Clementine has ended, and apparently they were together for awhile. Um... actually, I'm guessing it was a year. I think this is a few days before the following Valentine's Day. But it could be a few years, for all I know. (Though such speculation turns out to be irrelevant, for a reason I won't spoil.) Anyway, he has a couple of friends, who are of relatively little importance to the story. But one of them shows him a card he'd received saying not to talk about Joel's relationship with Clementine, because she'd had her memories of him erased. (Oh yeah, it also vaguely reminded me of season 2 of Grimm.) It seems these notices are sent out to anyone who knew the couple, though I have no idea why Joel himself wouldn't be informed. That just makes no sense. But whatever. Um... he goes to the clinic, Lacuna, where the memory-erasing was done, to find out what it's all about. And he decides to have the procedure done to himself, to erase his memories of her.

The first thing he has to do is provide Dr. Howard Mierzwiak with all the stuff in his apartment that had anything to do with their relationship, both so he could make a map of Joel's brain to figure out which bits to erase, and of course to make sure there was nothing left in his apartment to remind him of Clementine. And he had to talk to Howard about the relationship. It struck me as odd that when he said how they met, it was not what we'd already seen... but this sets up a twist that I don't want to spoil. Anyway, that night a couple of guys named Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), who work for Lacuna, go into Joel's home, after he's taken a pill and fallen asleep, and they begin the procedure. (We'd actually seen Patrick in one of the opening scenes, in a context that made no sense, but after the twist is revealed near the end of the movie, it makes perfect sense.) Patrick seems very unprofessional, and it soon becomes apparent that Stan isn't much better. Especially when his girlfriend Mary (Kirsten Dunst) comes over to hang out. She also works at Lacuna, as a receptionist I guess. And um... Patrick leaves, after his new girlfriend calls him. And then Stan and Mary start acting very unprofessionally.

Scenes in reality are interspersed with scenes inside Joel's mind, as he relives various points in his relationship with Clementine. A lot of the time, particularly early on, it was hard for me to see why he even loved her, but that was near the end of the relationship, so I guess it makes sense to see the bad things first. But as he works his way backward, he begins to remember the good times, so the relationship makes more sense. Of course, it's all jumbled up with memories of his trip to the clinic, and of what was going on in his apartment while he was asleep. So... yeah, weird and kind of hard to follow, until you get the hang of it. In fact for awhile I think he was only occasionally aware of the fact that all this was happening in his mind, and that he was undergoing the procedure, like semi-lucid dreaming. But as it went on, he became increasingly aware of it, and he began to change his mind; he didn't want to lose his memories of Clementine. But of course he couldn't tell anyone that, so he had to find ways to try to hide, to go "off the map" that Howard had created, by taking his memory of her with him to places from his past that she'd never been with him in reality. (As we see bits of his childhood, we kind of get a sense of why he is the way he is, now.) This evasion, of course, disrupts the procedure, and Stan has to call Howard to come and take over. Which eventually leads to a secondary twist revelation that I don't want to get into at all.

Anyway, when a hint was dropped of the movie's primary twist, suddenly everything started making sense to me, and I had a fair idea of where the plot was heading, and that's when I fell in love with the movie. And then... the plot goes where I predicted, which is nice. But it's not over yet, because real life is rarely if ever wrapped up in a neat and pretty bow. And besides, a bizarre plot like this wouldn't make any sense to be wrapped up neatly. I don't want to say where the plot goes, but I will say that I liked it all the more for not ending neatly. And... and yet... the ending is still potentially happy. But of course, in life there aren't really endings, and you never can tell what the future may hold. Anyway, I like how it ends. I like it a lot.


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