Have you ever wished you could redo an event in your life? I’ve often lamented that I didn’t study more in college. I a lifetime of boneheaded decisions painfully clearly. In high school, I said mean things about my friends when I was feeling insecure; in college, I was more interested in socializing than studying, eating, or sleeping; after college…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have dated a stalker by choice.
Eternal Sunshine provides me with the “what if” fantasy of erasing those memories from my brain as though they never happened. Joel and Clementine both decide that they hated their relationship so much that it was better off erased. Clem’s erasure is completed with no remarkable effects; however, the technician in charge of Joel’s is more interested in in beer and the opposite sex than in ensuring his job is done well (sounds like me in college). As the memories are pulled from Joel’s head, he relives each of them one last time. Joel begins to wonder why he embarked on this at all. His memories of Clem are often as sad as they are sweet, but he realizes he wants to keep them and starts fighting the erasing machine.
What follows is a captivating view into one director’s idea of how our synapses fire and misfire as they trigger memory. Reality bends and some scenes feel like cartoons or dreams. Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Joel is very good, despite the fact that a few scenes are obviously Carrey as Carrey, mugging more than acting. I even liked Kate Winslet as Clem and thought she somehow looked prettier with crazy red hair than she ever did in her other films.
In the end, the erasure negatively impacts everyone: those who do it as well as those surrounding the erased. While the movie had a few times when it swirled around like a madman, it drew the conclusion I always have: my experiences and mistakes, however grave or embarrassing, have made me who I am today. Maybe the cruelty of other kids- and my resulting lashing out- led to my compassion for people and animals. Maybe I’m such a diligent employee now to make up for earlier follies. Maybe if my GPA were 4.0 I would have had a different career path and wouldn’t have met my husband. Maybe all the desperately wrong people I dated helped me to see what I didn’t want in a spouse…and, regarding my bad relationship behaviors, didn’t want myself to be.
Regret is wasteful, and this film shows how our efforts to deny our selves do not end up bettering us. I didn’t expect to like this movie but I find myself wanting to see it again to reexplore each layer of plot and theme.