A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd. -- Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard"
It's one thing to wash that man right outta your hair, and another to erase him from your mind. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" imagines a scientific procedure that can obliterate whole fields of memory -- so that, for example, Clementine can forget that she ever met Joel, let alone fell in love with him. "Is there any danger of brain damage?" the inventor of the process is asked. "Well," he allows, in his most kindly voice, "technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage."
The movie is a labyrinth created by the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, whose "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" were neorealism compared to this. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play Joel and Clementine, in a movie that sometimes feels like an endless series of aborted Meet Cutes. That they lose their minds while all about them are keeping theirs is a tribute to their skill; they center their characters so that we can actually care about them even when they're constantly losing track of their own lives. ("My journal," Joel observes oddly, "is ... just blank.")
The movie is a radical example of Maze Cinema, that style in which the story coils back upon itself, redefining everything and then throwing it up in the air and redefining it again. To reconstruct it in chronological order would be cheating, but I will cheat: At some point before the technical beginning of the movie, Joel and Clementine were in love, and their affair ended badly, and Clementine went to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) at Lacuna Inc., to have Joel erased from her mind.