Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Lately I've been watching quite a few movies off of DVD and VHS. It affords me the luxury of pausing, rewinding, and rewatching bits that I want to check a second time. This morning however I decided to watch one 'live' as it was broadcast on Channel 4.

This was so not the film to do that with.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind spends the bulk of its 103-minute running time jumping back and forth between real life and the protagonist's dreams. These dreams are also set within the individual in question's memories, ie. the past. However that's still too simple, so the whole story is even told in non-chronological order, to the point of running the 'opening credits' after a mere twenty minutes.

When, towards the end of the film, we witness some scenes from earlier on getting repeated, it's definitely time to hit rewind and check if what we're watching is consistent. Or at least pause for a cuppa. Well now I'm just whinging - Channel 4 had thoughtfully laid on ad breaks for that.

In a nutshell, the yarn revolves around a couple who break up so absolutely that they even visit a clinic to have their memories of each other wiped. With Jim Carrey as the guy, plenty of comedy ought to ensue, but it's not that kind of a Carrey vehicle.

Instead this is one of those grim, cynical SF dramas that invite us to really believe in the concept and ponder the idea of everyday life becoming so warped.

Indeed, ponder is a verb which applies to this film extremely well, as the story itself is very simple. Once Joel Barish (Carrey) realises that his memories are being deleted in reverse while he dreams, the penny also drops that there isn't much he can do about it, and for a while the whole show slows down.

Not that that's a bad thing. The blessing of a slow script is the real opportunity to explore the situation. It's a bit of a shame then, that while we continue to experience the background to Joel and Clementine's problems, the exciting potential of memory wiping is something which this movie fairly ignores.

The ramifications for everyday life of such a technology are never explored, as isn't the legal and social fragility of such a patient's new life. For example, just how was Joel going to deal with all the people who he couldn't ask to stop mentioning Clementine to him?

Instead this gap in the subject matter gets filled by the mystifying inclusion of Kirsten Dunst as the Doctor's receptionist. When she turns out to have had a memory wipe too, the revelation cannot contain any punch, partly because we already know of the procedure's existence, but mostly because she has only been presented to us as a sloppy receptionist, rather than as a human being.

A much more interesting dynamic would have been to present the scientific team as honest guys doing the job that their customer has entrusted them to do, prompting the ethical dilemma of which of Joel's contradictory wishes they should really be more loyal to.

It's all a fun ride anyway, and as I say the story's brevity gives it real room to breathe. Jim Carrey is on good form playing an introverted misfit straight, and writer/director Michel Gondry keeps the visuals interesting throughout, without ever going too grand or cartoonish.

Definitely a film to watch off of a copy that can be rewound and reexamined though. Was it day during that nighttime scene between Patrick and Clementine? I can't clearly remember. I'd check back on the VHS, but I seem to have gone over it...

(Available here)


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