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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Rated R
2004

Charlie Kaufman has established himself as a master navigator of the mind’s wormholes — his dizzying tales of creativity, identity and destiny often marked by cynicism, anger and nihilism. Yet 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was as wholeheartedly and bittersweetly romantic as “Being John Malkovich” was bleak.

Joel and Clementine (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) have parted — she erasing all memories of their time together, he reconsidering that same process midstream.

Joel’s memories focus more on brief moments when a heartstring tug would be inexplicable to anyone besides those doing the pulling — the quiet solitude of an under-the-covers conversation, the first cutesy phone call, calming reassurance in the face of a loved one’s insecurities.

Suspense and sci-fi edges aren’t belabored. And in Michel Gondry’s surrealistic scope for mind and memory, the effects feel truly special, serving each hairpin turn.

Carrey’s performance isn’t just a persona break, but the most fully realized and engaging character he’s ever done. Winslet makes a perfect foil — their chemistry so intensely felt that we understand both why they joined and why they parted.

Meanwhile, Elijah Wood creates his own sort of Gollum, a disingenuous little sneak you’ll want to throttle. Mark Ruffalo plays a geek-chic riff on Louis Tully in “Ghostbusters.” And Kirsten Dunst handles one boffo twist with admirable restraint.

Kaufman saves any big romantic keypunch for the epilogue, where he shines a beautiful, but harsh, light on the emotional ethics of the things we do for love.

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8 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

  1. […] “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” “Once Upon a Time in America” […]

  2. […] throw) to hold audiences’ hands through this mind game — the inter-dream audacity of which made “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” read like a Little Einstein title by […]

  3. […] bravest, boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.” Its inter-dream audacity makes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” look like a Little Einstein […]

  4. […] boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.” Its inter-dream audacity makes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” look like a Little Einstein […]

  5. […] boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.” Its inter-dream audacity makes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” look like a Little Einstein […]

  6. […] closing sequence — spanning Egypt, London, Chechnya and, uh, Ann Arbor — recalls the effects of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It made one wonder what could’ve come of this had Charlie Kaufman taken a pass at the […]

  7. Nick Rogers says:

    mia: My personal attachment to "Eternal" is that it’s the first movie my now wife and I saw together at a movie theater (almost two months after we began seeing each other, which seems an unfathomable stretch, right?). If you’re ever able to revisit it, I recommend the enriched experience that’s the reward of repeated viewings of what remains, for me, Charlie Kaufman’s most accomplished work (although there’s one more of his yet to come on this list).

    The ridiculously tepid awards-circuit reaction to Jim Carrey’s "Sunshine" performance is precisely why he no longer pursues movies like this. Look at his filmography after this, and it’s enough to make your heart sink. The one risk he appears to have taken – "I Love You, Phillip Morris" – just got theatrically delayed yet again. Or maybe we can just blame Jenny McCarthy.

    And that ELO fascination is a love affair that should last forever.

  8. This movie was so emotionally wrenching for me (let’s just say many weird parallels to my most serious relationship) that I’m not sure I can ever watch it again.

    Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it’s in my Top 20 Best of All Time. Oh my God.

    Jim Carrey will never find a role this amazing again. But damn, he needs to try. Yes, he was good in The Truman Show, but this was a tour de force of emotional depth.

    Most superficially, this film kick started my loves of ELO and the name Joel.