Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (15)

Pas sur la Bouche (PG)

Dizzy, cerebral, thrilling (and that's just the concept)

If a high-concept movie is one that boils down to a single simple idea, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is surely a deep-concept movie. Director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman take their concept and tenaciously burrow into it until all its possibilities are comprehensively turned inside out. To say that Eternal Sunshine... is crammed with ideas is an understatement; miraculously, they all stem from one premise, the complexity of which is not for an instant sold short. You've never seen a Jim Carrey comedy half as dizzy, nor as cerebral.

That premise is this: suppose you could have all your bad memories cleanly erased. The set-up is disarmingly simple: one cold Valentine's morning, depressed Joel (Carrey) sets off for work, then on an inexplicable whim takes a train to the seaside. On the way back, he's accosted by blue-haired Clementine (Kate Winslet), a buzzy bohemian who launches herself at him with neurotic intensity. Joel shrinks into his seat, but he's hooked. Of course, it's instantly clear that they should really run a mile from each other, yet their romance seems fated.

And then... fade to black and to the credit sequence, at which point something has clearly gone wrong. This review should really fade to black right here, for fear of giving too much away, so be warned, but the next few minutes of bewildering incident lead to the revelation that the couple have indeed run aground, and that Clementine has arranged to have all her memories of Joel erased by Lacuna Inc, a company run by the genially reassuring Dr Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). So Joel, in turn, decides to have Clementine excised from his mind, and we begin to realise that the narrative is primarily taking place inside Joel's head.

By that, I don't mean that the film pulls the standard trick of making imaginary events look real as in, say, Fight Club. We're literally taken into Joel's mind, presented as an actual place, a labyrinthine landscape from which Clementine is vanishing like a species on the verge of extinction. The entire film is a repertoire of visual and auditory metaphors for the process of forgetting. As Joel relives the past, the world literally dissolves around him: people's faces become soft-focus smudges; book titles fade on the shelf. What's amazing is how discreetly, even casually, all this is done: although Gondry basically treats us to one long special-effects extravaganza, everything seems quite natural in its craziness, informed as it is with the logic of dream.

As Joel travels backwards into his memory, you feel you're looking down a hole that gets ever deeper, revealing further vertiginous drops: you take stock of where you are and realise you've wandered into a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Yet the film somehow keeps us precariously suspended between total bewilderment and relative groundedness. All this might make the film seem painfully tricksy: but Eternal Sunshine... is tricksy in the way that the mind is. The constant slippage from one thing to another vividly evokes the porousness of thought. As his memories blur into each other, Joel walks out of a bookshop and right into his friends' living room; he remembers a rainy day in his childhood, and bingo, it pours down in his apartment.

The whole experience is perplexing, disorientating and totally thrilling - the unconscious reimagined as a funhouse ride. At one time, you could only really look to European art cinema for such play with perception and time, and specifically to Alain Resnais, whose radically fractured fictions - such as Providence and the time-travel story Je t'aime, je t'aime - profoundly changed film's language for representing memory. Now, who'd have thought it, American mainstream comedy has picked up the baton - although here, with a French director at the helm.

Inevitably, though, people will think of Eternal Sunshine... as a Charlie Kaufman film: it displays the same free-associating brilliance as his Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, but it's considerably more coherent and organic than either. What makes it pure Kaufman is not just the zaniness or the trick-box structure, but the serious speculative intent behind the goofball surface.

It's all the more tempting to label this a Kaufman film given that his last collaboration with pop-video whizz Gondry was the lacklustre, comic-bookish Human Nature. In fact, Eternal Sunshine... marks Gondry's arrival as an audacious stylist. The film is sometimes starkly poetic. But strategically, Gondry offsets the surrealism with an understated, quasi-naturalistic grubbiness, photographer Ellen Kuras setting the initial mood with drab wintry light and nervy hand-held camerawork. Gondry also obtains cracking against-type performances from Carrey, winningly understated as a prickly ball of defensive anxiety, and from Winslet, whose Clementine is at once seductive and rebarbative. Infuriatingly mercurial as she is, we believe her when she tells Joel, "I'm not a concept... I'm just a fucked-up girl."

The only drawback is the slightly grating goofiness of the subplot involving Mierzwiak's crew (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst), although Dunst's bubbly stoner act will delight anyone who thinks eternal sun shines out of her spotless behind. The film's unsung star is surely editor Valdis Oskarsdottir: shaping all this material must have been like auditing the Library of Babel. This is dazzling, daring stuff: genuine philosophical cinema that you can still eat your popcorn to.

As for Alain Resnais himself, it's been 20 years since he abandoned the dark complexity that was his forte. His increasingly theatrical approach had its last burst of inventive energy in 1993's Smoking/No Smoking. But his new film Pas sur la Bouche is a laboriously frothy reconstruction of a 1925 comedy operetta.

In this creakily-crooned story of romantic misunderstandings, there's only a dash of retrospective irony applied to such jarring elements as an outright racist lament sung by a wealthy industrialist (Pierre Arditi, the one truly distinguished turn). Lambert Wilson makes embarrassingly heavy weather of his American visitor's bad French, and the film's only real distinction is that, in Sabine Azéma's fluttery grande dame, it puts someone on screen who's even more arch than co-star Audrey Tautou. This film has about as much point as, say, Peter Greenaway doing a by-the-book adaptation of a Brian Rix farce.

j.romney@independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor