Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind : Collector’s Edition

Charlie Kaufman has made a living playing with the minds of the people who watch his movies by playing with the minds of the characters in his movies. He toyed with the idea of replacing someone else’s mind with your own in Being John Malcovich, and explored the head of a brilliant but troubled game show host turned assassin/spy in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. His latest voyage, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind considers a world where one can erase unwanted and painful memories, even an entire person, from one’s head -- forever. Did a beloved pet just pass away? Does that childhood bully still haunt your dreams? Perhaps you’d like to experience the chilling joy of watching The Sixth Sense again, for the first time. Or maybe the amazing relationship you thought would last forever ended in painful disaster? If any of the above sound like your life, Lacuna Inc. has the solution to all your heartbreak and mental anguish needs. You see, Lacuna can erase any and all unwanted memories from your mind, allowing you to enjoy the life you always thought you wanted…or at least allowing you to erase the life you never thought you’d want to forget.

Joel doesn’t want to remember Clementine any more. He wants to completely erase her from his thoughts and eliminate memories of their troubled relationship from his daily life. Of course, it’s only fair since Clementine erased him first. Why should she have all the fun of a new relationship, baggage free? Joel sets out to employ the services of the same man who wiped Clem’s slate clean, one Dr. Howard Mierzwiak of Lacuna Inc. In what should be a simple, standard procedure of erasing recollections, Joel discovers just how painful getting rid of painful memories can be. But Joel’s erasure brings with it a series of other discoveries about his own life, his relationship with Clem, and the personnel of Lacuna Inc., revealing the heartrending darker side of the memory elimination business.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most original and visually stunning movies of the year. Yeah, I know, every other critic in the world has pretty much said the same thing, but that ought to be a pretty good indicator of just how amazing a film it really is. Most people have spent their time raving about Kaufmann’s brilliant and intriguing writing while others have praised director Michel Gondry’s (pronounced Mee-shell…now you can sound clever at the water cooler tomorrow) chutzpah as a revolutionary visual artist. What part of this film stunned me the most? The fact that Gondry found a way to rein in the childish antics of Jim Carrey and make an almost respectable dramatic actor out of the man.

Jim Carrey has haunted my dreams ever since he abandoned his usual fare playing roles like Ace Ventura and the Cable Guy and tried cutting it as a serious leading man in movies like The Truman Show and The Majestic. His utter ruination of How the Grinch Stole Christmas still makes me cringe when I hear the word Whoville. No matter how hard he tries, he always ends up flaunting his Carreyisms across the screen, destroying moment after moment with his silly comedics as though his time on “In Living Color” left him with a permanent zaniness hang-over. What’s worse, it seems that most directors gobble up every second of it, hoping perhaps to enthrall their ticket buying audiences by tainting their movies with Carrey’s lack of self-control. Not Gondry. The same brilliant mind that has mastered the use of light and shadow to achieve striking visual images of the tormented mind has also tamed the wild Carrey. Under Gondry’s careful and precise guidance, he delivers a performance that not only doesn’t offend, but actually moves me.

Gondry probably didn’t have to try nearly so hard with the rest of his cast. Kate Winslet, whose performance has already earned her award nominations with many more likely to follow, is absolutely mesmerizing as Clem. Tom Wilkinson gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the well-meaning doctor behind it all. The rest of the cast, including Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and the fresh-out-of-the-Hobbit-hole Elijah Wood, all slip precisely into place, proving if nothing else, that Gondry knows how to fill out the perfect cast list.

Movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind don’t come along very often. When one of the more original screenwriters of our day writes one of his best works, and gets a visionary director at the top of his game to direct it, and that director manages to extract almost miraculously perfect performances from his actors, it is a rare and enjoyable achievement indeed. This film is a weird and enchanting piece of cinematic storytelling that proves original movie making is far from being a dead art. As far as collector’s editions go, fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have gotten the shaft. The good folks at Focus and Universal must be hoping that people buying their special release will have had their memories of the original DVD erased. Otherwise the fans are in for some serious disappointment.

The packaging couldn’t be any cheaper. A shiny foil covering masks the cheap cardboard case which houses a flimsy (if not colorful) cardboard folder which has just enough room for the two discs it contains. If one of the discs in the case looks familiar, it should. It’s the exact same DVD originally released for the movie…nothing added whatsoever. Along with the feature, it contains a making-of featurette, commentary with the director and writer, a cute piece where Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry banter back and forth for awhile, some deleted scenes, a music video, the film’s trailer, and a patridge in a pair tree. That’s all well and good, but we had all that months ago.

So what is new? The first thing to pop out of the cardboard sleeve is shameless award pandering. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it makes me believe this “Collectors’ Edition” package was put together as a screener for the Academy Awards. It’s a dozen-or-so-page glossy booklet with images from the movie. That unto itself would be rather classy, except that the pages are then cluttered with excerpts from the rave reviews that various popular movie reviewers wrote for the film. Even that would be forgivable if they had included something from the Cinema Blend review, but it did not. For shame. Touted as a “collector’s booklet”, it’s nothing more than barefaced award nomination whoring and the DVD distributors should be ashamed of having included it in the set.

The only other new addition is a second disc that isn’t nearly impressive enough to make this a Collector’s Edition package. With just over an hour’s worth of bonus materials on board, it includes some additional making-of featurettes and an impromptu reunion conversation between the director and his starlet, Kate Winslet. There’s an all too easy to find easter egg with fifteen seconds of a silly animation, supposedly spawned from Joel’s notebook. Hardly worth getting excited about.

The only truly redeeming feature on the disc is an additional deleted scenes reel that includes around twenty minutes of unused footage. A real treasure, it actually has some startling scenes that would have made for great moments in the movie. Why they were left out is anyone’s guess (I’m not going to start questioning Gondry’s genius) but they are an absolute must watch for anyone who enjoyed the movie and wanted to see more.

Unless you are a true die-hard fan of the movie, or you haven’t yet purchased a copy of the original DVD release, there is no reason to pick up a copy of this so-called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Collector’s Edition. In fact, even the die-hards may want to steer clear and wait for the inevitable ultimate special edition that will no doubt trickle out in a year or so. Had this been the original release DVD set, it would easily be a four star package, but as a collector’s piece it hardly measures up.