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By the 30th prank call, Elijah Wood grew tired
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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Review written by: Alex Sandell

There's nothing harder to review than a film written by Charlie Kaufman.  Whatever the screenwriter's goals were as a child, one of them wasn't creating easily definable flicks that a movie critic could snappily sum up in five or six paragraphs. 

In the same way a person scrambling to describe the color red to a blind man would say that it is beautiful like a rose or grotesque like blood, a poetic film critic would describe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as being festive like happiness, buoyant like romance, fiery like a new love, and shattered like a broken heart.  And if a critic without a poet's soul is driven to retirement by trying to critique one of Charlie Kaufman's movies, I would imagine that a director without an artist's eye would be driven mad trying to commit Charlie's writings to film. 

A Kaufman script needs to be nurtured like a hyper-active child.  It needs a director that's part auteur and part bottle of Ritalin. 

Spike Jonze embraced Charlie's earlier scripts and raised them to be valuable members of cinematic society.  Jonze took Kaufman's first screenplay and turned it into the quirky comedic masterpiece known as Being John Malkovich.  Three years later Spike wrangled in Charlie's incomplete adaptation of The Orchid Thief and turned it into Adaptation; an incredible look into the conflicting personalities of a single screenwriter trying to adapt The Orchid Thief. 

In the intervening years a couple of other directors tried to tackle Kaufman's work, but to varying degrees of success.  Michel Gondry stumbled over the complexity of the entertaining, yet forgettable, Human Nature.  In the right hands, Human Nature could have been just as powerful a film as Being John Malkovich.  All the ingredients were there, but the director didn't know quite how to mix them. 

The same year that Spike Jonze deftly conquered the intricacy of Adaptation, George Clooney proved that an actor turned director making his first feature film should not try to tackle anything as ambitious as a screenplay written by Charles Kaufman.  Clooney's directing, while high-reaching as hell, turned Confessions of a Dangerous Mind into a tedious, overwrought and overlong production desperately in need of a good editor. 

And now along comes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  This is undoubtedly Charles Kaufman's most circuitous work.  The screenplay is a veritable labyrinth of the human mind, heart and soul.  In the wrong hands, this movie could have been disastrous.  But, since tripping over some of the words Charlie typed out in Human Nature, Michel Gondry has learned Charlie's game.  He's able to match him word for word and shoot his every word as if it were poetry.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was actually Michel's story idea that Charlie turned into a screenplay for Michel to direct.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind defies convention.  While it is one of the most beautiful romances to ever shine on the silver screen, it takes place almost entirely inside of one man's head.  That man is Joel Barish (Jim Carrey).  Joel is similar in personality to the "arthouse" version of Charlie Kaufman that Nicolas Cage played so well in Adaptation.  The only way he really expresses himself is through a journal where he puts down his thoughts and even draws up some pretty wild images. 

Joel's having an unusual day.  Valentine's Day is fast approaching and he's feeling the blues.  He's been single for quite a while, but doesn't think he has any chance of finding a girlfriend, being that he can't even look a female in the eye.  He's baffled by the recent discovery that he apparently ripped two years worth of his thoughts and drawings out of his journal.  Everything is building up, and Joel does something Joel never does:  Joel does something spontaneous.  He decides to leave the train that will take him to his job and hop on another train, skip work, and go grab some coffee.  He doesn't know why, but it just feels like the right thing to do.

Enter Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet).

Joel finds Clementine pouring booze into her coffee cup at the greasy spoon diner he eventually stops at.  Her hair's dyed a bright blue and her personality is no less colorful.  Although the two seem like a complete mismatch they prove the old adage that opposites attract.  Clementine essentially forces herself on Joel.  He's shy, she's outgoing, he's inward, and she's forward.  Joel is made uncomfortable by Clementine's forwardness, but is nonetheless attracted to her.  Then again, he did mention being attracted to any woman who pays attention to him. 

Joel tries to crawl inside himself, but Clementine isn't one to give up.  He's caught her fancy and she's going to have him, one way or another.  It's within minutes that she announces that the two of them will get married.  The two end up spending the day together.  When Joel leaves Clementine's apartment, she asks him to call her as soon as he gets home.  She asks him to wish her a happy Valentine's Day.  When Joel calls, only minutes later, Clementine asks if he missed her.  He says that, oddly enough, he did.  So a new romance begins...

And at what better time?  With Valentine's Day approaching.

But something quickly goes awry when Joel goes to give Clementine a Valentine's Day gift.  Clementine is working at Barnes and Noble (don't even get me started on what a GIGANTIC product placement that is), but she doesn't seem to recognize Joel.  Instead she's flirting with Frodo (Elijah Wood).  She does stop, between kisses, to remind Joel that, if he needs anything, just ask. 

It doesn't take long for Joel to discover that Clementine has had him erased from her mind.  He makes an appointment at the clinic where the procedure is done, to see if something this outlandish can actually happen.  When he finds out that it indeed can, he feels even sorrier for himself and, being that all's fair in love and war -- even if you forget the love and can't remember why you were in the war -- he decides to have the procedure done, erasing the memory of his darling Clementine from his mind. 

Once the procedure begins, Joel realizes, as he witnesses sacred memories he has with Clementine being erased from his mind, that he made a mistake.  Unfortunately, he can't get Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) to stop the procedure.  Why?  Joel's out cold and the Dr. Mierzwiak he's pleading with is only another figment of his imagination.  Joel manages to convince the Clementine residing inside of his head that his memories of the real version of her are being erased.  The two embark on a journey to hide from those who are trying to wipe Joel's mind clean. 

There's obviously no question in this movie that love is indeed all in a person's head.  But the answers provided in response to this theory are different than usual.  Even if love is nothing more than a chemical reaction and string of random memories, it is indeed real.  It's only when you decide to erase what makes love what it is -- the memory of love itself -- that love turns into nothing more than flowery words scribbled out on Hallmark cards. 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an unconventional love story powerful enough to remind us that there's no such thing as unconditional love, but conditional love is more than enough.  Charles Kaufman takes us on the ultimate head trip in this film.  With help from a superb directing job by Michel Gondry, a wonderful cast and an insanely entertaining premise, Kaufman has created his finest piece of work to date.

Yes, love is fleeting, Kaufman tells us.  But fleeting love can be the best thing in the world.  And don't ever let yourself forget the good times you had, because, although they can never come back, they'll always be there waiting for you when you need them the most. 

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