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

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker