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Heroes of the Zeroes: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

by on April 11, 2010
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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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