I’d forgotten this film from 2004. Joel (Jim Carrey) wakes to find that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had all memory of him erased so that she can move on. In anger, he chooses to do the same and we follow him back through their relationship as the fragments of his memory of her disappear. Directed by Michel Gondry with inventive camerawork and very few post-production special effects, you are kept off-kilter as you navigate your way through the real and the surreal that is Joel’s mind.
I remember this being the film where I realised Carrey could carry a serious role and he is good, totally believable as a shy man, clutching to the bright meteor of Clementine, wanting to be as free and courageous as she is. It is Winslet though who really shines. She is the life of the film, the one we begin to understand as Joel begins to understand her.
There are a few supporting characters who help flesh out the story and make it less self-indulgent. The connection between Kirsten Dunst’s Mary and Tom Wilkinson’s Howard is unexpected and gives us an external view of what we are seeing internally through Joel’s eyes. Time is not linear in this film and this is a device that allows us to watch Joel and Clementine’s relationship in reverse, from bad to good (as with Noé’s film Irreversible) and we are subtly kept oriented by the colour of Clementine’s hair.
This element of time-in-reverse is not a tricksy device, as with Memento and Pulp Fiction, devised to add complexity, but a way to show us Joel’s journey from denial to self-realisation. It is only afterward that you realise that you see very little of the ‘real’ Clementine on screen, what we see is how she is in Joel’s eyes. This is a lovely metaphor for the strength in focussing on your partner in a relationship, and not just yourself.
Bechdel test – fail