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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Entry updated 18 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2004). Focus Features presents an Anonymous Content production in association with This is That. Directed by Michel Gondry. Written by Charlie Kaufman; story by Kaufman, Gondry, & Pierre Bismuth. Cast includes Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kate Winslet and Elijah Wood. 108 minutes. Colour.

Joel Barish (Carrey) character discovers that his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Winslet) has had her memories of him erased by a company offering a targeted Memory Edit service, and seeks to have his own memories of her similarly wiped, but has second thoughts during the procedure and tries to hide the memories from obliteration.

A technical and conceptual tour de force by writer and director alike, Gondry and Kaufman's second collaboration after the underrated Human Nature (2001) is set mostly inside the hero's imprisoned consciousness, with scenes simultaneously incorporating the original memory, the remembering mind, its own erasure, and the attempt to rescue the memory from destruction, all of which tell a two-year love story backwards in a single night, the whole interwoven with two bizarre real-world counterplots: the theft and restaging of her erased memories of him by one of the erasing team (Wood) seeking to replace him in her affections, and the reactivation of an erased affair between two other characters. The narrative was originally designed with a frame story set decades in the future, in which it is revealed that the couple spend the rest of their lives reconnecting with one another only to re-erase themselves repeatedly; but the final version opts for a softer ending, intended to be read as either a glimpse of a renewed future together or a lost memory of their past. Kaufman had previously written an early draft for A Scanner Darkly (2006), and the influence of Philip K Dick is very strong, on the film's bleakly comic tone no less than its content, but there is also bold use of Kaufman's distinctive Theatre-derived techniques of dialogue-led transition within scenes between multiple layers of time and subjectivity. The script's virtuosity is well served, and matched, by Gondry's inventive minimalist bricolage and extremely low-tech in-camera effects; some shots were lit with a single domestic lightbulb. The film won the 2005 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay: one of the very few sf and fantasy works thus recognized. [NL]


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