One of the most interesting things about the release of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was what the minor fervor surrounding it was actually about. When asked by friends about going to see it, or reading about it in ads or in the paper, I found that the main attraction wasn't one of the film's many stars, but its screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman. It's amazing to think that Kaufman, who underlines the agonies of daily life with absurd comedy and a dash of science fiction, has already built such a unique body of work to distinguish himself to a moviegoing audience that normally wouldn't recognize or appreciate the work of a screenwriter.
To give away too much about the plot would obviously be a huge disservice to anyone going to see the film, but the basics are this: the film mainly revolves around the relationship between Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). In the midst of their breakup, Clementine goes to a clinic that deals specifically in "the erasure of painful memories". Yes, you heard me correctly; she gets her entire memory of Joel erased from her mind. In a fit of anger, he decides to erase her from his mind as well. The procedure, founded by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson, playing a character with a name that only someone like Charlie Kaufman could come up with), happens while the subject (or erasee?) is asleep; two employees (Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo, later joined by Kirsten Dunst) come to Joel's house and begin to erase his memory.
Michael Gondry, "Eternal Sunshine"'s director, has been described by admirers as a kind of mad genius (I'd quote that, but I can't remember where I heard it), and is an ideal match for Kaufman's creative force. Their first film together, "Human Nature", failed to arouse much positive response, but "Eternal Sunshine" is solid proof that director Spike Jones isn't the only one who can bring Kaufman's screenplays to the next level. With lesser direction, a script such as the one for "Eternal Sunshine" could easily be mistaken as a film full of loony highjinks, but Gondry is able to see right to the core of it.
Although "Eternal Sunshine" has a sense of humor that's loud and boisterous, it doesn't (and was never meant to) venture into the world of the madcap. It is instead, a moody and intense film, taking on the various states of memory head-on in an almost go-for-broke, avant-garde manner. It succeeds by finding the true love existing between the two leads. Doing so leads each of the characters to surprisingly tender, painful and intelligently construed revelations about the demonized or idealized visions human beings have of one another.
It is also crucial to mention, of course, that the casting of "Eternal Sunshine" is a minor stroke of genius, with each actor creating their characters so perfectly as to almost have them become iconic (and if this film had a big enough audience, I'm sure they would). Kate Winslet, for example, does some of her best work in years here, and I sincerely hope that this is the film that will finally force people to take Jim Carrey seriously, delivering another fantastic performance (see "Man on the Moon" and "The Truman Show").
In "Eternal Sunshine", the entire creative team involvedfrom Kaufman, Gondry, the actors, and all aroundare able to immerse themselves in a wonderful fusion of the subconscious and that which is indelibly close to home. This is a breed of film that isn't entirely new, but has nearly been popularized by Kaufman's past films and the works of other recent filmmakers. An appropriate compliment one could give to all of these people who have created the film is that this comedic drama is a natural, mature step up in their careers. All of this makes "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" an easy recommendation for almost any audience.