Cinema Signal:

Screenwriters Award-Winner Gift Set:
The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and Adaptation
by Frank Darabont

. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich," "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Adaptation)") puts rubber face Jim Carrey back in the arthouse with his aggravated timeline pastiche of a romantic comedy in which all memory of a person can be removed with a computer program. Carrey hasn't been this understated since "The Truman Show" and his leading lady, Kate Winslet the winsome, is slimmed down for wiggy adorability. So, if your relationship is going in the cellar, do you wipe your partner from your braincells and start over?

Clinically introverted Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) takes a solo train trip out to the boondocks and notices the fetching Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). Not being one to come on to a strange girl, even one who goes out of her way to be friendly, he locks up in shyness. She, it turns out fortuitously, is the type to make the first move. His obvious vulnerability and shy reticence knocks her out and her charming aggressiveness leads to a live-in relationship that eventually sours. Joel discovers to his utter bafflement that she suddenly doesn't know him anymore. It's as though her memory's been erased. She greets her former lover in the store where she works as though he's just another customer.

Joel's investigation to learn how this could have happened leads him to Lacuna Inc, a company named for a "missing space." In a sci-fi concept that might have been inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick, the mercurial, soft spoken head of the operation, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), has developed a computer program that selectively eliminates memory cells from the brain, as though it were a mass of binary code. His support team consists of effusive office manager Kirsten Dunst, and a pair of easily distracted technicians for the keyboard dirty work, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood). Leave it for now that there's a whole lot of office politics and shenanigans going on with this team.

Back to Joel who, now understanding why his estranged paramour no longer remembers him, decides to go for a little memory erasure, as well. As Joel undergoes his treatment on a hotel bed, the electronic probe of his memory cells evokes different parts of his experiences with Clementine, allowing writer Kaufman full liberty to play with flashbacked time warps within his zany conceptual framework. So much of the recalled moments in Joel and Clementines' relationship is positive and endearing, these disappearing memories builds in Joel a stronger and stronger desire not to let them go and to appreciate what he had and lost.

In the surreal matrix of Kaufman's labyrinthian juxtapositions, the operation on Joel's brain proceeds while Patrick bugs out to pursue Clementine and Mary comes over for a little sex play with Stan, all of which leads to a dire computer-brain glitch that brings good old doc Mierzwiak to the hotel room for technical rescue and to our discovery of his very shady, rather unethical past with Mary. Well, no one said a comforting bedside manner was limited to the application of medicine. And no one said a love story couldn't be a multi-dimensional miasma of situational satire.

"The Truman Show" and flashes of talent of a serious nature in more desperate joke-making contexts has drawn me to Carrey films despite no taste for his patented broadness of very low humor. Which explains why my approach to his films is always with trepidation. Here, at last, I found some payoff. In a totally unbelievable context, he exhorts his inner hero, an emotionally needful, risk-taking icon of humanity that one can identify with on the everyman level.

Director and co-writer Michel Gondry chooses a cast as much for their talents as for their disparate natures to fit Kaufman's madcap mold. The hairstylist of the production needs to be credited to a great extent for Winslet's great and constantly changing looks. The actress herself is at peak form, comedically solid and edgily spirited.

The challenging title is from Alexander Pope's poem, "Eloisa to Abelard":

"How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot:
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resign'd."

Which stretches the idea of a Vestal virgin's purity to the cleansing nature of cellular alteration to the point of dubious applicability. But, what the hell. Be not too much looking for perfection. It makes for stimulating entertainment.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey
as Clementine Kruczynski and Joel Barish
Enjoying a better relational moment.

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