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DVD Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

by Chris Parry

One of the finer films of the last year has made it's way to DVD, and though I don't normally sit down and take the time to write full on reviews for a DVD release of a film that half of the planet has already reviewed, this is one of those fine works of cinema that just can not ever get enough praise and credit from a critic. Of course, folks like Rex Reed don't see the point of a film as multi-layered and stylistic and ethereal as Spotless Mind - people like Reed still mourn the passing of the Doris Day era - but just as how a good book will make you sometimes stop and think and figure out the greater meaning, so too should a movie. And this one does, in spades. That some care has been put into the DVD release makes it all the more important to tell those that missed this fantastic film the first time around to make a concerted effort to go rent Eternal Sunchine of the Spotless Mind. Like, now.

Joel (Jim Carrey) doesn't quite know why he's doing it, but he's running for a train that is going the opposite way to the one he's supposed to be catching. He has an urge to go visit the beach at Montauk, even though it's snowing out. When he gets there, wondering what he's doing with his life and whether he'll ever find true love, he is approached by a weird hair-color obsessed woman (Kate Winslet) who just won't go away, even when Joel tries hard to embarassingly ignore her. She's abrupt, she's odd, she won't take no for an answer, she bites his head whenever he says the wrong thing... but he likes her. And thank God for that or he would have really screwed up his life - which won't make any sense to you until you've seen the rest of the film.

Now, Charlie is in a clinic (wjere we find Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood at work) having his mind erased. Not his whole mind, just the parts involving a girl named Clementine - the same girl he just met. Never letting you be sure of whether what you're seein gis happening in the past, present or future, Kaufman throws scenes at you and teases you into figuring out where they fit, a task that may well be too much for some people to cope with, but I accept with relish.

Why is Joel erasing this girl from his memory? What did she do to him to earn such a harsh act of vengeance? And why is he taking a bath in the kitchen sink?

Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter. He's also a lunatic. He's also a genius. He's also a lunatic. And a lunatic. In that order. Thank heavens for that, as he has created some of the most stylish, complex, beautiful, emotional stories for the screen that have come to exist in my lifetime. Being John Malkovich was a total comedic mindfuck. Adaptation was an experience in stunt-writing, where the writer and screenplay become part of the story in ways never before tried. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was part fantasy, part drama, part stage play, all brilliant. Yes, it would be safe to say that Charlie Kaufman has come a ;ong way from the days he kept the lights on by writing episodes of Ned and Stacey.

But the one misfire in all this, the one film that nobody really gave a damn about, was the one he wrote for French director Michel Gondry - Human Nature. I personally found it near unwatchable, and when Gondry and Kaufman reteamed for a film starring Jim Carrey of all people, my first thought was, "well, he is due for another stinker, I guess."

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Gondry, a music video legend, has found his feet in the cinematic form and created a look, a feel and a film that defies simple description. In a move to make the film dreamlike, he goes handheld for the entire thing, and underlights just about every scene, so that the light is where your vision is, just as it would be in a dreamlike state. No, this isn't a Lars Von Trier Shakycam (tm) experience, it is a very real, very unglamorous, very human story done in a very real, very unglamorous, very human way.

And, just as you'd come to expect from Kaufman, nothing is as it seems. Nor should it be, quite frankly.

The DVD release is not chocked full of extras, though it isn't short on them either. The disc (which is available in sumptuous widescreen or 'I'm a moron who wants to lose 1/3 of the picture" fullscreen) contains a commentary track with Kaufman and director Gondry, a 'conversation' about the film where various participants in the production discuss what they saw in the thing, a TV commercial for the clinic featured in the film, a music video for Polyphonic Spree's song 'Reach for the Sun' off the film's soundtrack, and several deleted scenes.

While that may seem like a lot, the devil's in the details. The commentary focuses far more on Gondry's directorial choices than it does on Kaufman's screenwriting choices, and the screenplay is really the part of this equation that makes it genius. The 'conversation' is basically a 'making of' featurette, the deleted scenes are hardly revelatory, and the music video is just this side of creepy, though the song is admittedly great.

I guess in the end the decision of whether or not you want to buy this disc comes down to how much you value an astoundingly good film that you will not only want to see twice, you may wel have to in order to catch the nuance of everything involved.

If movie audiences really do prefer to not have to think when watching a film, you've got to wonder why they don't just stay at home and watch Fear Factor. In my opinion, if every movie experience was like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my entire wage would be spent in a cineplex. And that's why the DVD will forever more stay in my collection - Jim Carrey or not.

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originally posted: 10/17/04 05:19:35
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