Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo

Directed by Michel Gondry

After a fight with her boyfriend Joel Barish (Carrey), Clementine Krucynski pays Lacuna, inc to erase him from her memories. After finding out about this, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure to lighten the weight of their breakup. However, as we travel through Joel’s brain and recount his happiest memories with Clem, Joel changes his mind and tries to find ways to never forget her. Meanwhile, the employees at Lacuna are dealing with drama of their own. Mary (Dunst), the receptionist, finds out that she was once in a scandalous relationship and underwent the procedure. Patrick, one of the technicians, stole details from Joel’s journals and tries to seduce Clem himself.

Joel and Clementine are complementary characters. He lives a tiresome and boring life. He’s alone on valentines day and resents himself for it. Joel’s very cautious, so he needs somebody to push him out of his comfort zone. Clem is, quite literally, the added color to his life. In the opening sequence, Joel draws a picture of Clementine in bright colors while the rest of the world is black and white. She makes him do things he wouldn’t have the guts to do alone such as playing on the frozen river or checking out the abandoned house. While they are set up as the perfect fit for each other, it is also implied that this is all superficial. Clementine says from the get go that she doesn’t want to be the girl to complete him because she’s “just a fucked up girl who’s looking for [her] own peace of mind.” Joel’s fantasy that Clementine’s supposed to be the one to show him the world is an unfair burden on her when she has needs of her own. Clementine is an insecure mess. She pours liquor in her coffee, drives drunk, changes her hair color frequently (reflecting her weak sense of identity), and is convinced that she’s ugly. Clementine is high maintenance, and Joel isn’t vocal enough to give her the validation she needs. Perhaps this upfront projection of Clementine as the “perfect girl” is a way of demonstrating how wrapped up in Joel’s brain we really are.

The characters who underwent the procedure have illogical compulsions driven by their erased memories. For instance, Joel feels a strong and sudden urge to travel to the beaches of Montauk, where he first met Clem, in the middle of February. Clementine also grows hysterical at her strange, urgent desire to see the frozen Charles River, a place of sentimental significance for herself and Joel. So, while one could argue that Clementine and Joel (as well as Mary and Mierzwiak) are brought back together because their personalities naturally attract, I believe Gondry (dir) is making a larger statement supported by these irrational drives; the characters reunite because of destiny. It is universal intervention, not complementary dispositions, that triumph the superficial memory wipe and pull Joel and Clem together.

The film makes an interesting statement about the nature of memories. The employees of Lacuna, inc are very invasive. Aside from literally ripping some of Joel’s happiest memories from him, they’re going through his kitchen, drinking his booze, having sex in his apartment, and, in Patrick’s case, stealing his life. These little moments speak to how irredeemably intrusive the procedure is. The character all appear to, at least initially, believe ignorance is bliss. Mary shares quotes like “blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders” and “how happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!” People think it’s better to forget unpleasant memories, satirized by the memory erasing industry. While Joel initially agrees with this viewpoint, he soon learns that while ignorance may be more comfortable, his memories, good and bad, make up who he is. Without them, he is even more boring and pathetic than before. Mary has a similar epiphany, which is why she sends out all of the former patients’ files.

I had heard so many great things about this movie before finally sitting down and watching it. It was recommended to me by a friend whose opinions on film I hold in very high esteem, so I had high hopes. While Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn’t the spectacular, psychological love story I was expecting (it was a little cheesy), I wasn’t let down. Gondry does an excellent job of demonstrating Joel’s cerebral confusion during his procedure. Since the film is generally pretty light but deep, I would recommend it to just about anybody.


nothing you'll miss

so i spent the afternoon thinking about the synonyms for betrayal. none of the words were strong enough or fitting for the feeling behind it. had to learn it the hard way. how since the last time i held you, it feels like someone took a hammer to my hands. this ache you won’t give a name. a bruise i couldn’t explain. the part in the horror movie you cannot look away from. i wish i could rip corinthians 13 out of the bible. it feels like my body made the bricks you built your new house out of and i don’t get to live there. i just have this shoebox full of old fists i never gave anyone. everything could’ve been anything else. whoever is upstairs shoveling the sands of time owes me some happiness. me saying “sorry i’m not staring i’m just trying not to blink.” they don’t get it. no one does. no one gets that when i went to see jesus you weren’t there. everything is just too loud and too full of cement and wondering when you’re coming home. come home. there we are. me and jesus. talking about how much cum i have to leave behind. in bodies that aren’t yours. the asphalt hell of “let her go” and all this whatever. he looks at me and says “the proof is in the pudding.” it is. and here i am. thinking about that scene in eternal sunshine of the spotless mind where joel and clem are standing on the ice and he says “what if it breaks?” so what if this whole thing breaks. as long as i don’t have to wonder. tired of all the people i meet shapeshifting into you the first time they make me smile. it’s hard on me. this worn out heart. this gift shop full of excuses. this wedding dance on crows feet. it’s like i walked into this store and the only thing they sell are snow globes capturing every moment you said you missed me and didn’t mean it.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Vinny Tagle on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)

In celebration of Pelikula Tumblr’s fifth anniversary, we asked some of our favorite writers to talk about films that they personally relate to

The first time I saw Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was after a breakup.

I was in my junior year of college, and I saw it with a friend who recommended it after she found out that I had split with my girlfriend of two years. She seemed to be pleased with herself when she saw the response the movie elicited from me: bucketloads of snot and tears, a running commentary in the form of my unsolicited sharing of random memories with my new ex, and a sudden desire to go ice skating even though it was the height of summer. By the time the screen faded to white as the last glimmers of Joel and Clementine playing in the snow led to the end credits, I was a mess. I was still hurting then, and watching the movie felt like someone grabbed my heart and dashed it against the wall.

I have since lost touch with my ex and even that friend who introduced me to it, but, like a crazy ex-girlfriend, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind still firmly, almost insistently, continues to stay with me.

The film’s premise borrows from science fiction. Joel (Jim Carrey) finds out that soon after his breakup with his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet), she had undergone a procedure that wiped out every memory of him from her mind. Out of resentment and feelings of betrayal, he decides to go through the same process as well. The movie largely takes place in his subconscious as his doctors probe his brain and try to erase all traces of Clem. With a nostalgic filter accented by Jon Brion’s poignant score, he revisits old memories and rediscovers the reasons why he loved her.  He relives the first time they met in a bookshop. Their first night under the stars. Their playful roughhousing under the sheets. But also, their quarrels. Their awkward dinners. And eventually, their breakup. He goes through these memories and belatedly realizes that he wants to keep them, and that the entirety of his memories of Clem is greater than the sum of its parts.

It isn’t hard to see why someone who had just gone through a breakup would have had such an emotional response to the film. It naturally invites us to reassess our current and past relationships and dwell on all the what-could-have-beens. Are we already, as Clem so precisely describes, the “dining dead”? Have I been appropriating blame correctly? Which painful events should I slowly forget and which experiences should stay and continue to define me? The movie is a reflection on our tendency to edit our amorphous memories and reshape our pasts to make living in the present more bearable. But the film also distinguishes between our memories, which are inherently fragile and subject to forgetting, and our feelings that lurk underneath those memories, which are less malleable and are more ingrained in our characters. In the end, as Joel and Clem meet each other again in Montauk, they are granted another chance to fall in love and share a future even though they might very well make the same mistakes.

Eternal Sunshine is a cerebral film, and its nice when directors treat our most untamed organ —our hearts—with some intelligence. Annie Hall, Blue Valentine, Her, these are some of the movies that try to do this as well. But for me, nothing can top the emotional catharsis and philosophical inquiries of Eternal Sunshine. It isn’t a perfect movie: the subplot involving the doctors played by Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, and Elijah Wood (what a fun group of actors) bored me. But it’s the best treatise on modern relationships that I have seen on screen. And as Joel and Clem’s romance ebbs and flows and comes full circle, it leaves us with the hope that when we find someone new (or even someone not so new), we won’t let history repeat itself and we continue to work on being better versions of ourselves.