I just saw this movie last weekend, mostly because it had gone up the hierarchy in my Netflix queue without me noticing--and oh well it's here I might as well watch it so I can send it back and not feel like I've wasted my money.
I generally cannot watch Jim Carrey without wanting to open a vein. Kate Winslet I love, but I was thinking she was going to be annoying in this film. And of course, I absolutely cannot bear to watch Kirsten Dunst in anything. So before I even hit play I was resigning myself to annoyance and irritation--and all so I could comfort myself that I hadn't wasted maybe six dollars on my netflix selection. You can tell it was a slow night otherwise...
Well, what can I say? I didn't love the movie, but I Felt Something while watching it, and that is more than I can say for most films, including those I actually, consciously, actively like.
What got me [right here] about this movie was the way it taps into that feeling you have when you have been with someone for so long--for both good and bad--that you somehow can't quite picture what your life was like before them. What Jim Carrey is experiencing as he's erasing his memories of his relationship with Kate Winslet really nails that feeling of almost-confusion or discombobulation that The Special Someone was not present when you were in high school or when you crashed your old car or when you went Christmas caroling with your youth group. It also nails the way you almost convince yourself that the person was there a la, "You remember my aunt; she was at the family reunion." "I didn't know you when you went to your family reunion." "Are you sure? I could swear you were there!"
It is so painful to watch them fight with each other during their relationship about the same things over and over again. But it was truly more painful to watch them try to delete each other from their memories without success. Jim Carrey was perfect for this role in his weariness with the way things were between them, his anger that she made the move to delete him first and subsequent F-U to her to get his memory erased as well, and in his desperate, subconscious fight to preserve the memory of her, even as the erasure is occurring. You just feel for him with every molecule in your body.
So, short story long, Eternal Sunshine was without a doubt very painful to watch...just not for the reasons I had anticipated. So, if you are prone to ignoring your Netflix queue, you might want to key this one up in a random spot so that someday soon when you are least expecting it, it will arrive and knock you on your a**.
ps--the title of the movie is from an Alexander Pope poem about memory and love:
"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!/ The world forgetting, by the world forgot./ Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!/ Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd."
pps--Here is a Slate review that does it better than I just did:
Joel isn't happy like that blameless vestal in his forgetting—quite the opposite. And it's here that Kaufman shows his real genius. As Joel travels back through his memories of the relationship—not the most recent ones, which come first and are nasty, but the earlier ones, the moments in which Joel and Clementine had a deep and pure connection—he remembers what he loved in her. He goes to a heartbreaking time in which she talks about her fears of being ugly as a child, and he pleads with the technicians in the heavens (who can't hear him—he's sleeping): "Please let me keep this memory." In that instant, maybe halfway through, the picture transforms into a different kind of story, in which the object is not to let go of one's memories but hang onto them, whatever the cost. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is like a topsy-turvy Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the hero must look back—and back and back—or his beloved will be lost forever.