Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Collector’s Edition
Running Time: 108 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1; French Dolby Digital 5.1
January 4th, 2005
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latest work from Charlie Kaufman is every bit as weird, wonderful, and intellectually stimulating as his previous works, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. As such, I suppose it automatically falls into the “not for everyone” category. However, this quirky, non-linear film, which is part dark comedy, part love story, and part exploration of the pain caused by broken relationships, is probably more accessible to a wider audience than Kaufman’s previous work, due to its moments of warmth, humanity, and sheer emotional resonance. What is more, the film gives Jim Carrey yet another opportunity to show moviegoers his ability to excel in a role that does not hinge on his ability to contort his face and overact, but more on that in a moment.
As the film opens, we meet the timid Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who lives a seemingly unsatisfying and uneventful life in his dreary Rockville Center apartment. Acting on impulse, which he apparently never does, Joel decides to play hooky from work on Valentine’s Day, and hops aboard a train to a snow-covered beach on Long Island, New York. There, he encounters the lovely and free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), and on the train ride back he is immediately taken with how exciting, beautiful, and unpredictable she is. Essentially, she is the physical embodiment of the colorful world Joel is constantly thinking about and sketching in his little notepad.
Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay then skips forward in time to shortly after the relationship between Joel and Clemetine has gone sour. Or does it? Could it have been that the relationship between the two lovers did not really start out that way at all? Are we really in the past instead of the future? Whatever…Charlie Kaufman has a real gift for playing clever mind-games with his audience, and I decided to not let myself get hung up on this detail. Instead, I elected to worry about it later, and just enjoy the wonderful and inventive ride that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which gets its name from an Alexander Pope poem, took me on.
Suffice it to say that at this early point in the film, Joel discovers that the impulsive Clementine has gone so far as to erase all memories of their time together, with the help of one Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) of Lacuna, Incorporated. Partially out of spite, and partially because the distraught Joel thinks this might help him cope with the breakup, he also pays a visit to Dr. Mierzwiak, and asks to have all memories of Clementine purged from his mind.
Unfortunately for Joel, the good doctor’s assistants, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), are not exactly the most professional or ethical people, so the procedure goes awry. More specifically, Joel, who was supposed to be sleeping for the procedure, somehow becomes aware of what is happening, and begins to seriously regret making the decision to purge Clementine from his memory. Subsequently, he comes to realize just how much he really loved Clementine, and tries desperately to resist the procedure and store the memories of his relationship with her deep within his mind, painful though they may be, lest they be completely erased.
Since much of the remainder of this twisted story occurs in Joel’s subconscious, where pieces of his memories of Clementine play out in a discombobulated manner, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a mysterious film, in sort of the same way that Vanilla Sky is. What I mean is that despite a few scenes where it is really obvious which realm (the “real” world or Joel’s memory) the characters are in, Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is usually pretty effective at keeping viewers off-balance, especially as it relates to how the story was going to be resolved. I also thought the clever reveal at the end of the film tied everything together nicely, particularly a few scenes from the film’s beginning, which had previously seemed out-of-place.
At the end of the day, there are several reasons why this film worked as well as it did, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the screenplay was a fantastic, funny piece of writing. Another plus was the presence of Michel Gondry at the helm, who also worked with Charlie Kaufman on Human Nature. In my opinion, Mr. Gondry proved to have been a great choice to direct Eternal Sunshine, as he instilled it with lots of creativity and kept the fragmented story from getting off-track. I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it is to keep a complex, free flowing story like this entertaining, but Gondry shows a steady hand, and created absolutely perfect imagery for this off-beat tale.
In terms of performances, Jim Carrey builds upon the foundation of excellent work he did in The Truman Show and Man in the Moon. His turn as Joel is a revelation, as he seems to have finally discarded the manic, rubber-faced persona he is usually associated with and thrown himself completely into a dramatic role. Indeed, even during the comedic portions of the film, such as when Joel tries to hide Clementine in a memory he had from when he was 4-years-old, he is completely at ease, and content to let the material generate the laughs. Without question, this is the best performance I have ever seen from Jim Carrey, not to mention a welcome change from his over-the-top roles in Liar, Liar and Bruce Almighty.
The balance of the cast is excellent as well, especially Kate Winslet, whose performance is almost as effortless as Jim Carrey’s. I was skeptical that she would generate believable chemistry with Carrey, but my worries proved to be unnecessary. Of course, I am not the final word on such matters, but I really bought into the tempestuous relationship between the two characters, and I also admired how easy Winslet made it look to play such a complex and dynamic character. I don’t think I have ever been as fond of Kate Winslet in a film before, her Oscar® -nominated turn in Titanic included.
I also enjoyed Tom Wilkinson’s understated performance as the stoic Dr. Mierzwiak and the comical misadventures of Elijah Wood and Mark Rufallo, who play his “highly skilled” technicians. Likewise, Kirsten Dunst makes the most of her limited screen time as Dr. Mierzwiak’s administrative assistant/Stan’s girlfriend, Mary Svevo.
After watching this three times (once for the commentary) for this review, my initial assessment that this is a great movie has been reinforced. Quite simply, this film is the rare cinematic treat that reveals more of itself (and gets better) with each successive viewing, and serves as a reminder that our experiences and memories both define who we are and help us grow – even the hurtful ones. More importantly, it is our painful memories and experiences that we can use as a guide to help keep from making the same mistakes over and over again, in both life and love. I think that Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry have touched on this in a most amazing way, by driving home the point that although it might seem like a great idea on the surface, erasing one’s painful memories might not be such a great thing after all.
Beautifully realized in all aspects, from Michel Gondry’s on-point direction of Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant screenplay, to the amazing performances by Carrey and Winslet, to Jon Brion’s musical contributions, which underscore the on-screen happenings perfectly, this is a testament to the fact that the movie industry is not devoid of new ideas, and a magnificent viewing experience!!! See this movie…you will not regret it!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Presented by Universal in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind offers a very, very good representation of Michel Gondry’s lovely visuals, although a couple of minor imperfections in the image keep it from being truly great. With a few exceptions, notably Kate Winslet’s varying hair color and bold attire, and 4-year-old Joel’s pajama, this film is not exactly a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. Nevertheless, aside from a touch of dot crawl noticeable in bright reds and oranges, colors, including flesh tones, are drawn in a natural and accurate manner.
As evidenced by the frozen-over lake and the snow-covered Montauk beachfront, whites are clean and bright, unimpaired by video noise or blooming. Likewise, black level is very solid, and the richness and detail of the film’s blacks ensures that the many scenes that take place in dimly lit environments contain plenty of sharp edges and impressive levels of fine detail.
The depth of the image is also well above average, and I did not notice any instances where digital artifacts crept into the picture. Unfortunately, however, there were a couple of instances where I detected ringing at the borders of light-to-dark transitions, although it was not pronounced enough to cause anything more than a very minor annoyance.
Overall, other than the two minor issues I mentioned (a bit of cot crawl and some minor ringing from edge enhancement), I was very satisfied with the transfer’s quality! Good work!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Both the Dolby Digital and DTS (5.1 channels each) soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine will give all of your speakers a workout, especially once memories from within Joel’s subconscious become part of the story. As usual, in comparing the two audio tracks, I thought the imaging was slightly better, and that timbres were a hair more realistic, on the DTS track. To be honest though, either selection offers a fine reproduction of the source material.
To be more specific, both the DD and DTS tracks present dialogue in a rich, robust, and distraction-free fashion. And on both tracks, the score is mixed just loud enough to be a factor in the experience without interfering with dialogue. Frequency response was also very smooth and even throughout the audible spectrum, and the soundstage reveals an ample sense of space when the source material calls upon it to do so.
As I alluded to above, the rear channels are also used frequently, especially during the many sequences that represent Joel’s subconscious. They handle more typical duties as well, like reinforcing the wonderful Jon Brion score and presenting ambient noise. The LFE channel is used far less frequently, but it does emphasize a few of the film’s sound effects, including automobile accidents and some of the sounds of Joel’s memories being erased.
All things considered, I was very happy with both the DD and DTS flavors of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as they each engage the listener in what is happening on-screen!
Feature Length Commentary
Fortunately for fans of this film, director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman took time out of their schedules to contribute an audio commentary that is both engaging and insightful. The pair, who had been working on this project since 1998, are also jovial and easy to listen to, which helped keep my interest throughout their discussion of the film. Among the many highlights were:
--- Kaufman and Gondry talking about their fight to keep the production from going to Canada, and how a cold winter brought snow back into the story after Kaufman had deleted it due to budgetary constraints.
--- Discussions about scenes that were excised from the film, including sex scenes involving Clementine and Joel or Stan and Mary, and about little details that viewers may not have picked up on.
--- Michel Gondry talking about some of the technical aspects of the production, such as the use of forced perspective, the benefit of adding smoke to the air during filming, and why the crew had to create a mock-up of the location used for Joel’s apartment.
--- Tales from the shoot, such as how Kirsten Dunst (who apparently does not like to improvise) would become upset at her fellow actors for straying from the script.
Honestly, this is a very good commentary track, and there lots of interesting nuggets of information presented throughout. It is a must-listen if you enjoyed Eternal Sunshine!
Deleted Scenes Featuring Jim Carrey
There are a total of four deleted scenes (running roughly 7 minutes) included, some of which are merely extensions of scenes in the film. They are briefly described as follows:
--- In the first excised scene, Joel returns a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Naomi, right before calling Clementine.
--- In this scene, Joel meets with Dr. Mierzwiak to begin the process of having Clementine removed from his memory.
--- The third deleted sequence features Joel and Clementine sneaking into a theater on their first date (or Joel’s memory of it), and discussing the things they talked over on that evening.
--- The final deleted scene is an extension of a scene where Clem and Joel were getting busy.
A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
In this 11 ½ minute promotional featurette, director Michel Gondry, producer Anthony Bregman, and all of the principal cast are featured in interview excerpts, which provide an overview of the story, a brief description of the characters, and how the combination of Charlie Kaufman’s words and Michel Gondry’s visuals makes for a magical viewing experience. There is also a very brief look at a couple of tricks Gondry employed to avoid using blue screens or CG effects.
All in all, it is not a bad featurette, but as it was meant to promote the film, the inclusion of too many scenes from the film hinders it. Having already seen the film, I was looking for more insight into this complex work than it contains.
A Conversation With Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry
Better than the “A Look Inside…” featurette is this funny, insightful conversation between Carrey and Gondry, which for some reason occurs from two high school style desks! Basically, the two men sit and chat about various aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for nearly 16 minutes, offering up some really amusing stories about what happened on the shoot, run viewers through the orchestration of one of the film’s effects, and reveal what happened when the circus came to town!
In addition, there is some interesting rehearsal footage of Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey preparing for the film, and of Jim Carrey driving around on a bed that was outfitted with wheels and an automobile engine. Good stuff!
The video for Polyphonic Spree’s “Light & Day”, which contains clips from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is included.
Infomercial for Lacuna, Inc.
This cool little extra is a commercial for Dr. Mierzwiak’s Lacuna, Incorporated, where Tom Wilkinson tries to entice people into having the painful memories in their lives erased via his sophisticated procedure an skilled technicians. I thought it was a hoot, especially at the very end, where Wilkinson pulls off his glasses and delivers the company’s tagline in a truly over-the-top manner!
The disc kicks off with a promo piece for Focus Features, followed by trailers for Vanity Fair and The Motorcycle Diaries.
DISC TWO: EXTRAS EXCLUSIVE TO THE COLLECTOR’S EDITION
Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue
This 17-minute extra focuses on one of the film’s most interesting sequences, via analysis from Jim Carrey, director Michel Gondry, and key members of Eternal Sunshine’s crew. To be more specific, the participants discuss the difficulty of keeping track of the pieces of the scene that are fading from Joel’s memory, and of trying to bring what was in Gondry’s mind to the screen.
There are also very interesting discussions about how the car being dropped from the sky came to be added, about the importance of the score to the sequence, and the effort to make the movie look raw, by moving away from blue screens and motion control. This is a good featurette, make sure to give it a look!
A Conversation With Kate and Michel
The discussion between Kate Winslet (who looks smashing!) and Michel Gondry is a companion piece for the discussion with Jim Carrey and Gondry that was part of the previous DVD release. During this playful, interesting conversation, which runs for 14 ½ minutes, the director and his star discuss some of their experiences associated with the making of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
To be more specific, Kate talks about her desire to play Clementine because she was a really different character than anyone she had previously played, and the pair discuss the fact that no actors’ marks were used on the film. Instead, Gondry used microphones to communicate with his DP and camera operator, which allowed the actors to really be spontaneous during takes.
In my opinion, this conversation is not quite as interesting as the conversation that Mr. Gondry had with Jim Carrey, but it is still worth a viewing nonetheless.
New Deleted Scenes Featuring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet
A total of 7 additional deleted scenes are available in this “Collector’s Edition” set, which run for approximately 19 minutes and play continuously. While I do not think most of this material belonged in the finished film, particularly a couple of sequences featuring Joel talking with his ex-girlfriend Naomi, it was actually quite interesting to see, and a nice addition to the disc.
The Mind of Michel Gondry
“The Mind of…” is a neat 20-minute featurette that allows viewers to get a first-hand look at how Michel Gondry created the amazing look/visual effects for this film, without relying too heavily on blue screens or CGI. In my opinion, I think this was the best featurette on the disc, and I thought it was fascinating how the truly stunning and visionary imagery in this film was captured with such “low-tech” methods.
This two-disc set comes with a 26 page fold-out booklet that contains photos and quotes from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as review excerpts and notes from fans about what the film has meant to them. This is only my opinion, of course, but I though that this booklet was far too self-congratulatory…and the silver slipcase that housed it was equally ridiculous in that regard. We (moviegoers) can tell if a movie is good by WATCHING it, thank you!
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a very refreshing experience, and one of those rare movies that challenges at the same time as it entertains. It is also an imaginative, thoughtfully directed, and precisely acted piece of cinema that will satisfy the palate of those hungry for a non-traditional blend of romance and comedy.
More than that, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a tremendously original and ingenious film, with amazing performances from both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Now that the year is out, I have to say that this film was my absolute favorite film from 2004, and it only gets better with each successive viewing! Eternal Sunshine is not only a fabulous film, but it also provides evidence that not all filmmakers are out of fresh ideas!
Unfortunately, with all that being said, I do have to say that I am more than a little upset at Universal for springing this “Collector’s Edition” on us so very soon after the original DVD release, even though the Eternal Sunshine experience offered by this set is even more rich and complete. Why? Well, aside from it being a shameless effort to bilk people who love this film out of their hard-earned cash, the new packaging and “commemorative booklet” are self-congratulatory to the point it made me sick to my stomach. This may be nit-picky of me, but I know that I don’t need a shiny silver slipcase to tell me how wonderful this movie was…in many different ways…and then be hammered over the head by still more praise from the enclosed booklet.
Further, although the same solid presentation is to be found here (on the exact same disc previously released no less), as well as an even greater amount of mostly worthwhile supplements on disc two…I think I have to recommend sticking with the original version on principle. Quite simply, I am not in favor of being asked to go out and buy a souped-up “Collector’s Edition” DVD just a few weeks after the initial release, as it begs the question “Why not just wait and do it right the first time around?”
Conversely, for those that have not yet taken the plunge (really people, what are you waiting for? ), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a must own – and this “Collector’s Edition” does offer an experience that is a bit more comprehensive and rich than the previous release. For everyone else, they are ultimately your $$$, but I have to go against my ratings above, and follow my gut instinct, which tells me to urge against a double-dip (and a shameless one at that), even though it is a better release. And just so you know how strong a statement that is, I have repurchased many inferior movies than Eternal Sunshine. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come…