[Screen It]

(2004) (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet) (R)

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Drama: In the middle of having his girlfriend permanently erased from his memory, following her doing the same to him, a man has a change of heart and tries to hide within his memories from those hired to erase them.
Joel Barish (JIM CARREY) and Clementine Kruczynski (KATE WINSLET) are a classic example of opposites being attracted to one another. He's reserved and pensive, while she's an outgoing and impulsive free spirit. Despite some good times together, it isn't surprising when they begin to have problems with their relationship.

Little did Joel know, however, how far Clementine would go to end it. With the help of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (TOM WILKINSON) and his team at Lacuna, she's set out to have Joel completely and permanently erased from her memories.

When Joel realizes what she's done, he makes an appointment with Lacuna receptionist Mary (KIRSTEN DUNST) and then awaits technicians Patrick (ELIJAH WOOD) and Stan (MARK RUFFALO) to work their memory magic and have Clementine removed from his.

In the middle of the process, however, Joel realizes he's again enjoying his time with Clementine - if only in his memories - and wants to stop it. Yet, since he's unconscious, his only recourse is to flee within his own head - accompanied by a now sentient, memory-based version of Clementine - and try to avoid the erasure team that's coming after the two of them.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
If you've ever been in a romantic relationship that didn't work out - and who hasn't - you know that one of the worst initial aspects is the aftermath. That's when memories of the good times lost or simply the bad memories in general overwhelm the "survivor."

No matter how hard you try, you can't rid your mind of them and must rely on time to diminish them (and even that doesn't always work). That is, unless you plan a trip to Lacuna where you can have all memories of said person and your relationship with them completely erased.

If that sounds like one of those wild if cautionary sci-fi tales from author Philip K. Dick (whose stories inspired the likes of "Total Recall" and "Minority Report"), you'd be right in making such an assumption. Yet, this time around, the plot comes from the fertile mind of Charlie Kaufman who's proven in his screenplays for films such as "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" that he's not lacking in the imagination department.

Like his other films, this one is a complicated jumble where the plot folds back onto and then into itself. Accordingly, fans of the writer's work will once again be in hog heaven as the plot takes a surreal trip through a cerebral wonderland.

Except, it's not Alice this time, but Joel Barish who gets caught in the wild adventure. You see, since his girlfriend had him erased from her memory, he's decided to do the same to her. But in the middle of the process, he decides he doesn't want to throw away those memories. From that point on, he and the now sentient memory of his girlfriend try to elude the memory-erasing technicians by hiding within his other memories, but real and fabricated.

It's not as confusing as it might sound, although it often has quite a heady feel to it. The beauty of the film, however, lies in the fact that it's so much more than just a bizarre story. In fact, it works on a great many levels, but the one that's most successful and satisfying is the love story.

You might not expect that since the two main characters are trying to purge each other from their memories. Yet, it's their very love - him deciding not to continue and then her (as a memory) trying to help him elude the erasure crew - that grounds the film (in a good way) and makes it accessible.

It's also all about relationships once the "dating face" comes off and all of one's "warts" are exposed. I won't give away the ending except to say that it's a brilliant piece of thinking about relationships and dealing with having all of the cards laid out on the table.

Although I don't think I'd exactly label them with that same laudatory adjective, the performances range from good to terrific. Those who either love or hate Jim Carrey's ("Bruce Almighty," "The Majestic") usual mannerisms may be surprised (or disappointed) that he plays his lovelorn character as mostly subdued. As a result, it's arguably his best work to date.

Playing opposite him is the always reliable Kate Winslet ("Iris," "Quills") who's terrific in her role as the somewhat flighty and impulsive woman who rocks his world in more ways than one. Supporting performances from the superb cast that includes Elijah Wood (the "Lord of the Rings" films), Mark Ruffalo ("Windtalkers," "You Can Count on Me"), Kirsten Dunst ("Mona Lisa Smile," "Spider-Man") and Tom Wilkinson ("Girl With a Pearl Earring," "In the Bedroom") are solid across the board, with their characters and storylines only adding to the film's thematic issues.

Then there's director Michel Gondry who's orchestrated them within Kaufman's wild script. I wasn't terribly fond of their first collaboration, "Human Nature," but the kinks have obviously been worked out the second time around. While the film doesn't look as polished as "Adaptation" (it's more akin to the somewhat low-budget look and feel of "Being John Malkovich"), it's obviously been handled with just the right touch to make it work.

Had the film just been about the memory erasure bit, it probably would have been an entertaining diversion. With the added subtext, thematic elements and strong performances, however, the end result is arguably what will be one of the best films of the year. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed February 24, 2004 / Posted March 19, 2004

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