Writer Charlie Kaufman and Director Spike Jonze are one of those great entertainment team-ups whose work so superbly compliments one another – on their own they’re each a formidable talent, but together they create mind-bendingly inventive stuff such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”. For ‘Eternal’ though, Kaufman teams again with French music video director Michel Gondry – their first teaming being the woeful “Human Nature”. Whilst it’s a big improvement on that, and one of the best films so far this year, ‘Eternal’ still can’t help but feel a little disappointing had Kaufman’s brilliant script been in more capable hands.
Much of the film is like the chase sequence through Malkovich’s mind in BJM, but much slower paced and more gritty. Gondry hasn’t opted for a studio film at all, instead giving us a very bleak handi-cam shot indie art flick essentially that short of its cast and clever FX, looks like it was made for about $5. In fact the production design from Winslet’s horrendous hair colours to the mom & pop shop style Lacuna operation is so utilitarian it slightly destroys some of the premise’s credibility (yes it seems you can do memory erasure with a PC, a car battery and a collander).
Performances though are what are at the top of their game with Carrey in dramatic form although in such a toned down, serious way that it’s startling – in fact it could be his best work ever. Support from Winslet, Ruffalo, Dunst, Wilkinson and Wood are all strong turns of both a sweet and tragic nature. Visual effects wise there’s a brilliant mix of faultless slight of hand and digital effects that blend together seamlessly – from a scene with 360-degree head backs to a hilarious bit where walking up and down a town street yields the same result.
Gondry’s work will have a hard time connecting with an audience though who’ll have a love/hate relationship with this movie. Some will love it for its inventiveness, originality and stark emotional truth. Some will hate it for its pre-tense and self-involvement. Both are valid arguments – Kaufman and Gondry are so in love with their ideas that neither remembers to properly ground the picture so it escapes into its own giddy world a few too many times and loses us. Yet for all its over the top flamboyance, it’s brought to Earth by Carrey whose sheer emotional power and devastation wring more out of us than any of Kaufman’s clever little tricks.
Oddly paced, disjointed, and yet so original and clever that it’s a stunner, “Eternal” is certainly one of the more interesting pics in a long time. Its strong performances and script buoy up a somewhat awkward look and direction, but when it comes down to it the film has gotten all the most important basics right. Romance was never this stark or twisted.