I have to admit to having had had the best part of a bottle of wine when I first started watching the movie, so my own mind was far from unblemished, and soon had difficulty staying on this trecherously winding road of a storyline. ("Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss much")
Next morning I picked myself out of the ditch and carried on, trying to concentrate on the various shades of Clementine's hair, a device like the costumes and sets in Hero, spreading colour-coded breadcrumbs through this confusing maze of inner and outer space-time. At the heart of the labyrinth lurks Valentine's Day, the peak period for focussed partner erasure.
It's one of those sneaky films that you WILL watch more than once if you like it.
Intriguingly this could so easily have been posed as a thriller along the lines of Vanilla Sky (or Memento even), but the French director Michel Gondry has deployed a number of pacing tricks, most notably John Brion's scoring, to keep the tension fairly even. You care about what happens primarily because you care about the characters, and that is where Carey and Winslet come in.
I find that whenever I tell anyone that I am a long time fan of Jim Carey they generally give me the same sort of look that people give me when I try to suggest that Eyes Wide Shut is a great movie! As a serious actor Jim Carey appears to be drawn to stories with congenital traits traceable to that long dead granddaddy of cognitive paranoia, Phillip K. Dick. He was a chirpy but determined presence in The Truman Show, but this is a sadder, more painfully reflective movie, crafted to make us laugh with a tear in the eye, and Carey plays it to perfection. Kate Winslet is the impulsive, cartoon-kooky half of the pair-up here, dispelling all my remaining indifference to her. Without such captivating central performances I suspect Charlie Kaufman's words would have hogged the limelight, a film-diminishing effect similar to the fate of Closer.
As well as the age-old idea, most eloquently expressed by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium, that each of us has another half we are somehow fated to hook up with, Kaufman also re-explores some of the themes from Stanislav Lem's Solaris - how much can we really ever know about the person we love and is the replica that we create in our minds in any way interchangeable with the real thing?
My only quibble with this Kaufman and Gondry collaboration is that originality of this kind is usually best spread a touch more sparingly. At times ESOTSM is just a little over-rich.
There's another French movie due out in London this month which similarly takes the viewer back from the wreck of separation to the unbreakable core of a relationship – 5x2. I shall have to check it out.