Running Time: 108 minutes.
Rated: Rated R
Depending on what you think about Jim Carrey and Charlie Kaufman, you will either want to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or run a mile from it.
Jim Carey's brand of humour is not to everyone's taste. Script writer Charlie Kaufmann, of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind fame, clearly specialises in the offbeat. This script doesn't disappoint on this score either.
Joel Barish (Carey) is a loner who falls in love with Clementine Kruczynski (Winslet), an unreconstructed hippie. They have a very tempestuous relationship. When Clementine breaks up with Joel, she goes to Dr Howard Mierzwiak's (Tom Wilkinson) Lacuna Clinic. Dr Howard has invented a machine to wipe out memories. Clementine wants to erase Joel from her memory. When Joel finds out what Clementine has done, he asks Dr Howard and his wacky staff - Stan (Mark Ruffalo), Mary (Kirsten Dunst), and Patrick Wood) - to have the same treatment. As he undergoes the therapy he discovers that he does not really want to loose knowledge of Clementine after all, so he fights to hold on to his memories of her.
Given the research and debate about recovered memory these days, the idea that we might be able to purposely erase bad memories in the future is an interesting, if presently utterly hypothetical, idea to think about. From a religious point view, memories are extremely important - enabling us to know God, one another and make the best possible choices. Editing out bad memories would be a very dangerous and unethical intervention.
Charlie Kaufman's script clearly argues against the development of such technology. By the end of the film Clementine is a lesser person for having had the procedure, and Joel is more human for resisting it. Kaufman shows, in the actions of Doctor Mierzwiak and his whacky staff, how such a treatment could be open to abuse in the hands of immoral people.
Christianity, of course, calls for healing of memories as the anecdote to destructive experiences, and this ironically titled film says much the same thing. The spotless mind is diminished because life's richnesses, in part, is made up of good memories. Goodness can only be discerned in contrast to the bad. We need both to know how to stay in the sunshine.
Fr Richard Leonard is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.