Let’s Talk About ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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’s “Eloisa to Abelard”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a romantic science fiction comedy — words that don’t seem like they should go together until you add “written by Charlie Kaufman” at the end. This rather twisted tale follows (sort of) the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) who have memories of each other erased after a breakup. It explores the nature of love and memory in a disjointed back and forth between reality, memory, present, and past.

What Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Means to Us

The first time I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I didn’t make it to the end credits. I was watching it with an ex-girlfriend, and as much as I’d like to blame her negative reaction to the film for my dislike, I think I was just too young and innocent to fully ‘get it’. I didn’t think it was a bad film, it just wasn’t to my particular taste. Many years (and one nasty breakup) later, I rewatched it and felt like I was able to fully grasp the themes that were on display. The desire to stay with someone who is obviously not right for you is a very real and common thing. It also asks the question, is it better to live and learn from our mistakes and hardships, even if we had the choice to make ourselves forget them?

It’s a love story, character drama, and dark comedy, and it would be nowhere near as effective without the non-linear storytelling. It’s a really interesting premise and feels like a Charlie Kaufman film through and through. And even though Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes an eccentric, sci-fi approach to the traditional love story genre, it tells the story it wants and conveys the emotions of the main characters perfectly. As they fall in love, out of love, and everything in between, I’m still not sure if I want them to stay together, or never see each other again.

–Lee McCutcheon

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

We all know the trope. The quirky, free-spirited (but totally hot) girl who brings adventure and fun to some sad boring man’s life. While the manic pixie dream girl persona is often criticized for being a one-dimensional and unrealistic depiction of women, I don’t think that’s the case here. I enjoy the way the relationship between Joel and Clementine is allowed to develop so that we see more complexity to both characters.

Yes, Clementine is impulsive, adventurous, and mysterious. But as we skate through Joel’s memories, we see the dark side of that impulsivity in her emotional volatility and self-destructive behavior.

Joel is the introvert. A quiet, insecure, melancholic man who wants love and connection but fears rejection and abandonment. Despite their differences, Joel and Clementine are drawn to each other and bring out different sides of each other — the good, the bad, and the ugly. As we go along for the ride, we see the raw, messy, painful parts of love, as well as the parts that fill us with hope and contentment.

Carrey and Winslet weave this romance beautifully, despite the fact that both characters are very contrary to the typical roles of the actors. Because of this, I remember that = the first time I watched the film, it took a little while to really connect with the story. That feeling passed quickly, and now I can’t watch either of them in anything else without getting an urge to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (1)

The Science Fiction

Lacuna. It’s a weird name for a company that does a weird thing — erasing specific memories from your brain with a device that looks like the big industrial blow dryers at a hair salon. The mind-erasing company is owned by the serious and stately Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) and staffed by his assistant Mary (Kirsten Dunst) and technicians Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood).

After a fight, Clementine goes to Lacuna and has her memories of Joel erased. Joel finds out and decides to do the same. As he sleeps, Stan and Patrick hook him up to the blow dryer memory thing and begin. We, the viewer, bounce back and forth between the memories they are erasing and the Lacuna staff’s interpersonal drama — and oh, how dramatic it is.

As we travel through memories with Joel, we see the development of his relationship with Clementine. We see them at their best and at their worst. Eventually, Joel realizes he doesn’t want to forget Clementine, and he along with his memory of her bounce around trying to escape the memory trapper. It’s bizarre and confusing, but it is also beautiful and heartbreaking. It is a lesson on the importance of our memories and how even the painful ones can be important.

Meanwhile, the Lacuna staff drama is unfolding literally around Joel. Patrick attends to a freaked out Clementine (who he wooed using Joel’s memories, which is just so ick). Stan and Mary get stoned and have an underwear dance party until things start going wrong with the procedure. Howard arrives to fix it, and we eventually land in what I think is one of the most tragic scenes of the whole movie.

Mary, whose crush on Howard has been obvious from the beginning, impulsively kisses him only to be seen by his wife. As she tries to explain that it was she who made the advance, the wife drops the bomb that Mary and Howard had already had an affair, and Howard convinced her to get erase the memories of it. It is a powerful scene, and the parallel story perfectly complements the journey that we have been on with Joel and Clementine.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2)

Love, Memories and Montauk

There are many questions that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explores, none of which are really can truly be answered but which are important to ponder nonetheless.

If we forgot the people we love today, would we fall in love with them again if we met them tomorrow? The Joel/Clementine and Howard/Mary storylines seem to tell us the answer is yes, but I’m not sure if I buy it. Or maybe I just hope not. The idea of Joel and Clementine dramatically erasing each other only to fall in love again and get hurt over and over again is just depressing.

How do our memories shape our reality? From traveling through Joel’s memories, we see the different ways in which these memories shape him as a person, in good ways and bad. Our memories help create our sense of self, but they aren’t always reliable. They can be influenced by our emotions, our biases, and our interpretation of events.

Is falling in love worth it? Generally, I would say yes. The caveat is that in the context of this movie, I think Joel and Clementine should have ended on goodbye. They had the journey, they felt the love, they went through the pain. Repeating it over and over again just seems masochistic to me. The “meet me in Montauk” scene is serenely hopeful, though, and it’s easy to get swept away by those good feels.

Share your Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind trivia, fun facts, and favorite scenes down in the comments below!