Miles away from the romantic comedy standard, this film from director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman swirls with emotion, mixing a deeply romantic (if often harsh) sensibility and hilarity with the turmoil that accompanies heartbreak.
Eternal Sunshine opens with Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) in what appears to be the most intense, most excrutiatingly awkward first meeting ever committed to film. Instead of following them through the next logical steps of their relationship, the film strips away the familiar cinematic safety of timeline and reality, giving us instead a harrowing personal examination of romantic loss.
The effects, most of them tricks of lighting or set or perspective rather than CGI, contribute to the dreamy, surrealistic feel of the movie, and the caliber of the actors allows us to see how these guarded, broken characters connect, ineffably, inevitably. Kate Winslet makes Clementine’s hectic moods* engaging, investing her with both charm and anger; Jim Carrey’s hooded, haunted eyes brim with boyish longing and hidden depths of affection and desire.
The film explores the sheer absurdity that is love’s habitat, and, among its many heartaches, it shimmers with a heartening glimmer of hope and a belief in the persistence of love.
*spoiler: As the film progresses, you realize that throughout much of the story, Winslet is playing a character remembered through another’s eyes: idealized and vilified by turns, inhabiting a fractured memory. It’s fascinating to see both the writing and acting that allow her to create a rich, textured person without violating the limitations of the structure.