Friday night, Amy came to DC, and we hopped over to E Street Theatre to watch Eternal Sunshine, Charlie Kaufman’s latest surrealist offering, directed by Michel Gondry.

(The original phrase “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” is from Alexander Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard.)

Beautifully crafted film, with an absurd yet absurdly simple storyline. Classic Kaufman: the characters’ own deceptive ordinariness will inspire resonance rather than boredom.

In a nutshell, angsty yuppie Joel Barrish goes through the unusual procedure of having the memories of his wild ex-girlfriend Clementine erased from his brain, but begins to have second thoughts while in the midst of the procedure, and attempts to spirit her away into the deepest recesses of his mind. Much more happens, but I won’t spoil it.

The visualization of Joel’s jaunts through memory are haunting and dreamlike — literally dreamlike, as scenes from his recent and distant past are juxtaposed, intermingled, spotlighted, and demolished. Watch for the book covers at Barnes and Noble, the forced perspective of under-the-table childhood, the eternal crawl under the sheets, and the train ride through the mind.

This has to have been Jim Carrey’s most understated role yet; apparently he used no makeup for this film, and appears in all his stern, craggy, unshaven glory. Carrey barely reveals any of his trademark funny-faces except in two circumstances: as he delves into the Freudian recesses of childhood memory, and in a few cutesy-couple moments with Kate Winslet as his polar-opposite girlfriend. Other than that, most of his screen time is spent as quiet, reticent, brooding, average Joel, and he pulls off the portrayal perfectly.

[SPOILER] The only other Kaufman film I’ve seen is Being John Malkovich, and it’s my honest opinion that it was far exceeded by Eternal Sunshine for wit and meaning. One thing that bothered me about both movies, however, is that after developing a storyline along certain lines, Kaufman expands it unnecessarily with a sudden, peripheral, absurdly rationalistic twist — to the detriment of the original concept. In Malkovich it was the old man explaining to Cameron Diaz exactly how the tunnel into Malkovich worked, and in Sunshine I think it was Kirsten Dunst’s character sending the tapes to Lacuna patients. In both cases, the narrative stood alone well enough minus these added developments, without which the film could have progressed without even missing a beat. Malkovich could have stood even without the whole history of the tunnel being laid out point by scientific point, and an aura of mystery would have been preserved, thus decreasing distraction from the human conflict being played out. Sunshine could have skipped right over the entire segment of Joel and Clem listening to their respective tapes, cutting straight to the final scene of the couple together again at Montauk, and it might have still been a complete movie. Still, in Sunshine‘s case, when Joel and Clem are in the hall and they both realize that their rekindled relationship could be doomed as it was before, and Joel simply goes “Okay” and they begin to laugh, the nearly-doomed happy ending is preserved, with extra insight into the power of hopeful, sincere love. (That final shot of them in the snow at Montauk is a happy ending, right? Not just a flashback?)

Oh, and Elijah Wood, fresh out of Frodo, portrays an excellent jerk.