Universal Studios Home Video presents
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: CE (2004)
"Please let me keep this memory. Just this one."- Joel (Jim Carrey)
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood
Director: Michel Gondry
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug and sexual content
Run Time: 01h:47m:40s
Release Date: 2005-01-04
DVD ReviewCharlie Kaufman may be the only screenwriter working in Hollywood today with a signature style; that alone is cause to cheer him, for finding success in an industry that is too often the bland leading the bland. I've found some of his previous efforts more than a little too clever for their own good—the first hour of Being John Malkovich brims with ingenuity, but the film pretty much runs out of gas in the last act; I'd more or less say the same about Adaptation, in which what others have defended as a sendup of a chase sequence is, I'd argue, just a bad chase sequence. But Kaufman seems to have made some crucial breakthroughs with this film, and perhaps they're interrelated. For one, he's written a story that isn't just intellectually engaging, but is deeply emotionally compelling, as well. For another, he's cherrypicked wisely from the teachings of his sometime guru Robert McKee, and his story here has a galvanizing third act, one that makes you eager to see how things turn out for the characters, instead of fighting off the yawns for yet another holler of "Look, Ma, no hands."
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then, is what you might get if David Fincher tried to make a screwball comedy, or if Vladimir Nabokov and Philip K. Dick decided to pair up as a writing team. Jim Carrey plays Joel, a droopy worker bee, who decides to ditch one day and take the train out to the beach instead; there he meets Clementine, a whimsical free spirit with an enthusiasm for hair dye, and they're drawn immediately to one another. One of the great things about this movie is that it's an extended exercise in point of view: are we in the present, or the past? In Joel's mind, or back in the world? Director Michel Gondry encourages us to embrace that uneasiness, and if you do, you're in for a terrific ride. Joel and Clem's relationship is lovely at first, and then, inevitably, painful; after the necessary breakup, he learns, she contracts out to a renegade operation called Lacuna, to have her every memory of him erased. It's a high-tech, dystopian take on the lament of every romance that's gone bad: is it in fact better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
Gondry's prodigiously inventive visual style matches the creative energy of Kaufman's script, and it's encouraging to learn (from the commentary track and extras package) that most of this was done with good old-fashioned ingenuity, and not by leaning on the folks in post to take care of the inspiration with CGI. And the film is really a touching meditation on what it is that makes us human; if we're willfully ignorant regarding or medicated to avoid experience, there's no growth or gain in life. Carrey is restrained and moving as Joel; he throws focus to Winslet, in the flashier part, who has got the mid-Atlantic flat cadences down perfectly, though sometimes you may feel like she's working it too much. They're well supported by Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood, as a couple of doofy technicians—Ruffalo seems to have some sort of thing about appearing on screen in his underwear, and he meets quota here. Tom Wilkinson and Kirsten Dunst are sharp, too, in supporting roles; it's always bracing to see talented actors gravitate to the best material, and not feel that a movie in which they're not in every frame isn't worth their time.
I guess the rap against Eternal Sunshine is the same as that against other films written by Kaufman: that it's too show-offy in its cleverness, that it's smarter than you and is going to let you know, that it's antiseptic, that it appeals to its audience only from the neck up. But the same things were said about, say, Pale Fire; you do have to work a little bit watching this movie, but it's not just a Rubik's cube of a picture; its pleasures are more profound than just finishing the crossword. Besides, any movie that takes its title from a poem by Alexander Pope is sure to warm the hearts of me and every other English major out there.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: High praise to Ellen Kuras, the director of photography, whose work here is far ranging and exquisite; the world of cinematography has been a boys' club for far too long. It's a very strong transfer, with solid color levels and a strong and saturated palette.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: "What?" "What did she say?" "What was that again?" That, unfortunately, was part of the dialogue in my house as the movie played; certainly that's in part by design, as Joel's aural memories break up along with his visual ones, but occasionally dialogue that should be more clear to the audience sounds muddled. A nice balance with the haunting score, though.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
- accompanying booklet
First is a look Inside the Mind of Michael Gondry (19m:46s), which features interview footage with the director, Winslet, and Carrey, and members of the production team; the footage of test f/x shots, along with the comments on the same from the d.p. and the production designer, are especially informative. Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue (17m:19s) draws on some of those same interviews, for an up-close look at one instance of Joel's memory being erased before his virtual eyes—this includes one of the few CGI shots in the picture, and the comments from John Prine, who composed the score, are especially good. A September 2004 conversation (14m:25s) between Gondry and Winslet demonstrates the fondness they both have for the project (I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager this was recorded at the Chateau Marmont). Also here is a package (18m:46s) of seven deleted scenes, adding to the four on the first disc; it's a chance to get a glimpse of Naomi, Joel's ex, much talked about but never seen in the final cut. There's also a long, long scene of what is Joel and Clem's de facto first date, full of awkwardness and promise; it's almost all been ditched in the final cut, not because it isn't good, but because it's almost out of another, much more straightforward movie.
There's also an itty bitty easter egg on the second disc: keep clicking down on the main menu, and you get a very brief (00m:21s) look at one of Joel's own cartoons. Accompanying the set is a booklet, too, full of glossy photographs from the film, snippets of dialogue, and rave reviews, both from the critical establishment and from just plain folks, who seems to have written in to the film's official website.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThis is as innovative a movie as has ever come out of the studio system, but it's no mere empty exercise in style; Charlie Kaufman has written a smart, innovative, moving screenplay, and Michel Gondry has given it astonishing visual life. If you've already ponied up for the first DVD release of this title, this special edition doesn't merit a double dip; but this would be the version of choice.
Jon Danziger 2005-01-24