With Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman proved himself to be one of the most inventive screenwriters working today. His screenplays are complex, witty, and uncompromising. Sadly, they've also been cold and nihilistic and more than a little profane.
Mr. Kaufman proves himself to have a heart, however, with his latest film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (rated R for bad language and some drug and sexual content). Mr. Kaufman's script is again full of strong profanity and sexual references, but at least he's taking his ideas in a more productive and illuminating direction this time.
The movie takes its title from a poem by Alexander Pope: "How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot./ Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd." Mr. Kaufman uses science fiction to explore this theme, that ignorance equals happiness.
In the very near future, a company called Lacuna offers a simple service: unwanted memories erased. Clementine (Kate Winslet) employs Lacuna's services after breaking up with boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey). When Joel discovers what she's done, he undergoes the same procedure in retaliation. Much of the movie takes place inside Joel's head, as a somewhat untrustworthy group of Lacuna employees hunt down his memories of Clementine and zap them.
Why hunt? Because even though Lacuna has previously mapped Joel's brain, Joel decides midstream that he doesn't want to lose his memories of Clementine after all. As Joel travels mentally back in time, he begins to remember what he loved (and loves) about Clementine. He starts trying to store these memories away in unexpected corners of his mind in an attempt to revolt against the erasure process.
What's ultimately good about the film is that Mr. Kaufman leads these bruised characters not to a place where they learn to seek merely their own happiness, nor even to forgive and forget. Instead, Mr. Kaufman acknowledges that love involves sacrifice and compromise, that it exists not purely in the happiness of one moment, but in the larger context of commitment.