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Jim Carrey At His Finest

It’s time to celebrate Jim Carrey’s birthday. The now 55-year old actor burrowed his way into our consciousness beginning with In Living Color on television and then The Mask, Dumb & Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective on the silver screen. All of these hits provided classic lines that were shouted between slugs of beer. They were light fare that fit the image that he had carved out early in his career. Later came his first dramatic turn that didn’t come with the accompanying cries from critics and fans that he stay in his lane and stick to comedy. The Truman Show found a stripped-down Carrey easing into the role of Truman Burbank, a man whose entire life has been a reality television show. It was a “dip his toe in the water” career move. He was excellent but, it still had the Jim Carrey element of comedy lingering under his performance. Next came Man On The Moon, allowing him to play a serious role of a comedian, Andy Kaufman. A good movie but still somewhat familiar territory since it was in a world in which he resided.

These two roles set him up for the best work of his career, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.

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The Michael Gondry directed, Charlie Kaufman written film didn’t call for a role with underlying humor, but rather sadness, loneliness and fright. Carrey wore those emotions with his body language and face as well as he had famously performed in his comedic roles. The gist of the movie is that a company can wipe a memory clean from your brain. After their breakup, his girlfriend Clementine, played expertly by Kate Winslet, has Carrey’s Joel removed from her existence. Joel decides to do the same and, in the process, we see how they came together, fall in love and then eventually fall apart through his disintegrating memories.

Most relationships have a familiar cycle and Eternal Sunshine presents it astutely. They begin with the glee of something new. You always want to call the person and never want to hang up. Eventually, real life creeps in and we see the other’s warts and deal with them until you can’t anymore. Then come the fights. You may love someone and share your deepest desires with each other. You’ll step outside of yourself and do for another because you care for them that much. However, when it comes to the fight, you’ll say the most awful thing to them to inflict pain. The truth really does hurt, especially when it comes from the holder of your heart. All of this fills the screen as Joel and Clementine try to hide from the machine wiping his memory. We see them pick the scabs off of their relationship and how they regret it. Carrey is vulnerable and, most importantly, more human than any other role.

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It’s telling that the restrained performance from Carrey was helped by director Michael Gondry. In interviews, he talked about encouraging every actor to improvise with the exception of Carrey. He knew the performance and genuine reactions he wanted from him and got it by keeping him reined in. No one has been able to do it since.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a perfect movie and a perfect way to reflect on Jim Carrey’s birthday because it turns out to be a gift from him to us.