Movies That Everyone Should See: “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;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
“Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;”
Desires compos’d, affections ever ev’n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav’n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp’ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th’ unfading rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymeneals sing,
To sounds of heav’nly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day.

- “Eloisa to Abelard”, Alexander Pope, 1717

Joel is… feeling off.

On Valentine’s Day, he spontaneously plays hooky from work, and takes a train to the beach.

It’s February. It’s cold. He’s alone.

He’s painfully shy.

There he meets the extroverted Clementine. Clad in a blaring orange hoodie, hair dyed blue, impulsive and forthright, Clementine is his polar opposite.

And in this case, opposites attract.

After talking together on the train ride home, the two discover they’re heading for the same stop. They live near each other. When Joel offers her a ride home from the station, a romance begins.

But “Eternal Sunshine” is definitely not your typical romance.

It’s a romance embedded in a sci-fi movie with a touch of comedy from the mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman is an idiosyncratic genius with a penchant for brilliant, cryptic works. He began his career with National Lampoon, did work on a number of television shows for the FOX television network, then launched his big screen career with the enigmatic “Being John Malkovich”. His other works include “Adaptation” and the joyously indecipherable “Synecdoche, New York”.

He and director Michel Gondry had previously collaborated on 2001’s “Human Nature”, a movie that didn’t register much, but which did lay the groundwork for future collaborations. Along with performance artist Pierre Bismuth, the three of them laid out the brilliant and imaginative story that Kaufman worked into the script for “Eternal Sunshine”.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” quickly moves from its romantic opening to the sci-fi concept. In a narrative cut, Clementine has broken it off with Joel and is moving on in a drastic way. She’s gone to “Lacuna, Inc.”, a company which specializes in eradicating painful memories. She’s voluntarily had all traces of Joel erased from her mind.

It’s a painful addendum to the rejection of a break up.

It’s not only over, she doesn’t even want to think of him anymore.

The news is too difficult for Joel, too hurtful. He decides to undergo the procedure himself.

As Joel undergoes the process, “Eternal Sunshine” lets its style spread its wings. In a non-linear, surrealistic fashion, the memories that Joel has of Clementine flash through his mind. While inattentive Lacuna reps work on eliminating Clementine from his memory, Joel is cognizant of what’s happening. He recognizes it. Resists. He changes his mind and realizes he doesn’t want to forget Clementine after all.

A prescient Joel watches himself undergoing the procedure. From within his memories, he stays aware of what’s happening to him. Scenes change and dissolve as he runs from memory to memory, trying to get ahead of the process. He and Clementine hustle through the darkness of his mind, chased by a spotlight as if they’re on a jailbreak. She vanishes again and again. He attempts to hide her in the recesses of his mind, deep in his subconscious, where the scientists don’t know to look for his memories of her.

It’s a unique and inventive chase. From on high, scientists pursue the protagonist and his girlfriend through the labyrinth of his own subconscious. His fears and insecurities and childhood memories unfold. The movie presents a stream of consciousness style visual narrative replete with frequently changing settings and wardrobes. Joel himself often changes to reflect the spirit of the memory he and Clementine have found themselves in.

As the memories unfold, we’re given a complete portrait of Joel and Clementine’s relationship. A complete portrait. The tentative excitement of their explorative first days together. The bitterness and contempt present as their relationship disintegrated. The irrationality. The volatility. The spitefulness. But they also show the sweet memories. The love. The contentment. The fun. The tenderness.

It’s an honest and thorough look at the state of being in love. You’re never as vulnerable as you are when you’re with someone. Love is a risk to your heart, to your psyche. There are great rewards, but in order to attain them, you do have to put yourself at risk. By coupling, you expose your insecurities to another, and that can be frightening. Relationships also tend to end bitterly. It’s a rare, rare, extremely rare breakup that’s amicable and painless… but even staying together can be a battle.

Apologies to Erich Segal, but the truth is that love means having to say you’re sorry frequently.

But Joel and Clementine are irresistibly drawn to each other.

The heart wants what the heart wants. The movie reveals that the narrative has been non-linear, and that the opening on the beach where the two first met was actually where they both met again, after having their memories wiped. The opening romance was actually an unbeknownst rekindling. It threatens to be short-lived, however, when the two are exposed to the each other’s pre-procedure confessional tapes, which of course are an unflinching exposure to every painful thing the other would say in an unguarded anonymous moment.

And yet, even after the truth is revealed to them, the two choose to pursue their relationship again.

Ultimately, “Sunshine” affirms that in spite of the pain and risk, love is worth taking chances.  It advocates for an open and unafraid heart. A leap of faith.

Which would be brilliant enough, but “Sunshine” touches on so many other potential thinking points. Are people destined to be with each other? Is there such a thing as a soulmate? Is the game of life and love really an incarnational game of hide and seek?

One of my favorite ruminations though, is on the ethics of all of this. The Lacuna, Inc. mind erasing team is almost entirely composed of morally compromised individuals. Profiteers from pain who wish to wash the mental hands of the consequences of the choices and actions of life. Hypocrites and skeevy snakes and subjects of the procedures themselves, they get their comeuppance by the picture’s end… you can not circumvent karma.

Even without the Lacuna staff representing the procedure poorly, however, is erasing painful memories something people would want? If we could clean the spots off of the mind… make it spotless… would that truly be a joyous thing? Is it our pain that is truly what makes us who we are? Is it our mistakes that define us? Wouldn’t the removal of our regrets and the cleansing of our unpleasant memories be tantamount to anaesthetizing ourselves from reality?

You cannot inure yourself from pain if you wish to live. Complete and constant bliss is a fool’s paradise.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a brilliant work of genius.

It’s inventive, stylistic, creative, and original. It doesn’t merely present “Food for Thought”, it lays out a first class buffet. It juggles comedy, science fiction and romance effortlessly. Remarkable visual effects are involved, but they serve the story as opposed to the story being set up to serve them. The movie evokes a wide range of emotions and can give rise to introspection and contemplation… self-reflection. Plus of course, an evaluation of your relationships.

The ingenious script is given life by superb acting and auteur level direction, backed by a wonderful, quirky, melancholy score.

Kaufman and Gondry, along with their collaborator, Pierre Bismuth, were given Academy Awards for their screenplay. Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress, but did not win (Hillary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby”). Jim Carrey wasn’t nominated, and yet, I find this movie to be easily – far and away – the greatest offering of his career. The movie wasn’t even nominated for best picture, which is a terrible, terrible oversight as far as I’m concerned. I look over the nominees that year (“Million Dollar Baby”, “The Aviator”, “Ray”, “Sideways” and “Finding Neverland”) and “Sideways” is the only one I love wholeheartedly. And as much as I love that movie, this is a better film… a much better film.

But perhaps it’s serves as an example of how true greatness is often not recognized immediately.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a funny film, a touching film, and an extremely well made film. The script is incredible, the acting is authentic and the directing is superb. It’s an artistic, emotional and astonishing movie. It speaks to us personally, yet also speaks to the human condition.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.

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48 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

  1. Another film in my collection. I consider Kaufman the most inovative writer around. I love his works. While others come up with the same tired stories, he always does something different.

    • Isnt he a trip? LOL. His flicks are great… even when they’re almost completely inaccessible there’s a charm to them thats undeniable.

      Thank god for artists like him throwing some flavor into the Hollywood studio mix, you know? :D

  2. I don’t seem to remember ever watching this movie… dun dun DUN! Sorry, it’s a great movie, I’ve always loved the style of Michel Gondry, I have a collection of his music videos and they are a real treat to watch. This movie really matched with his sensibilities perfectly, it’s such a great mix of genres that wouldn’t always go together well, aside from the often cheap romantic subplot tacked onto a sci-fi movie. Really great choice.

    • Thanks BW! Definitely is a bit of a genre mash-up isnt it? But unlike a lot of movies that try it and fail, this succeeds in the fullest way…

      I’m not really that familiar with Gondry’s other works, aside from “Green Hornet” (which I thought was decent, actually) but after this movie, I would believe he’s capable of putting out a great flick every time he steps up to bat!!

      • He’s probably best known for most of Bjork’s music videos. He also did Foo Fighter’s Everlong, Lucas with the Lid Off, and several other videos that you watch and think “how did they do that?!”

  3. One of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. I’m talking top five of all time levels of greatness. Excellent write-up man, thrilled to see this film be a part of your series. If you didn’t deserve to win Best Running Feature then you do now :P

    Seriously though, great post.

    • Heh. Thanks! We’ll see, man. I’d be really honored if that winds up happening, definitely.

      Glad you enjoyed. I knew from somewhere that you were big on this flick, so I’m glad it meets with your approval. When people are hardcore fans of a flick, they’re probably going to be your toughest audience, you know? :D

      Thanks for the kind words!

  4. “Apologies to Erich Segal, but the truth is that love means having to say you’re sorry frequently.”

    Classic! Wonderful piece for an extraordinary film, Fogs.

    • Ha!! LOL… I’ve been sitting on that one for a long time. I’ve said it a lot over the years, I finally got to drop it into a post!
      :D

      Thanks Le0p, your support is always appreciated!!

  5. Well what do you know? A Move That Everyone Should See that I’ve actually seen. Nice review.

  6. This is one of those films that stands as a ‘defining film of its time.’ It proves along with the Momento’s and Inceptions that high concept is not dead nor is it un-embraceable.

    I count it in my all time list of strange films and I smile slyly seeing that this was the piece that followed your Prometheus review. I like to think that great thought provoking film does NOT garner all of its earned ardor after the first viewing but after the third, fifth, or tenth with all that clarifying thinking done in between.

    Kudos Fogs, this just underlines why you got all your LAMB nominations! Stellar work!

    • Thanks Ric, I appreciate that… definitely.

      Looking forward to hashing out Prometheus with you tomorrow, I cant wait to read your write up either… I’ve had it open since you posted it, and then havent been able to get to it! (Stupid Lambcast!) LOL

      High concept flicks are a high wire act… “Degree of Difficulty” comes into play. When they stick the landing though? Like here? Oh wow, they’re so great. The others you mention there, too…

      This one was a fun one to write up, it gives you a lot to work with.

  7. Wow. What a great write up. Awesome job man!

    And I have to say, this movie is a great movie. Probably one of my top favorite films of all time. I love it because everything just seems so effortless – like you said. It is an inspired piece of art and im glad to see it made your list!

    • Thank you Mark, appreciate that! :D Glad you enjoyed it.

      It IS “an inspired piece of art”. Absolutely. I think its the highest order of film… when they can entertain, and yet convey a meaning… you know? Have some depth. And this film does both in a big way.

      It’s a movie that just moved way up on my personal favorites list (not that it wasn’t already top 100, it was). Some movies, when you write ‘em up, it just gives you a deeper appreciation… and this was definitely one of those. :D

  8. One of my all time favourite romantic films. I love it’s honesty. It’s brutal at times. But it’s beautiful to watch. So amazingly put together by Michel Gondry.

  9. memories be tantamount to anaesthetizing ourselves from reality? ” This is Kaufman’s take of a world on anti-depressants. He’s personally on SRI’s(serendipity re-up-take inhibitors) max dosage. The cure for love’s labors lost. You poured your heart into this review, you’re such a hopeless romantic, and it’s the romance that makes this better than “…Malkovich” or “Adaptation”. Loved this flik and loved it best for Kate Winslet’s heart and soul. Kaufman is a mad genius but lord I wish I hadn’t seen “Synecdoche”, he lost major points with me for that stinker. As usual, it’s getting tiresome to say, another great review!

    • Then who’s making you? LOL!

      Synecdoche wasn’t a stinker, it was just a riddle. A complete movie puzzle for people to search for meaning in. His most cryptic effort, completely unchecked. I liked it. Hell if I know what it means 100%, but I got a lot out of it.

      This and Adaptation are much more accessible than Malkovich, that’s part of what makes it better, too.

      I didnt know he was on meds, but its not far fetched, and its easy to see how this could be a statement that could apply to medicating moods.

      • Just tiring to emphasis how many great reviews you have. Marie and I both hated “Synec..” If a movie is a puzzle and you search for meaning and can’t find any, what does that make it? Don’t really know if Kaufman is on meds. Seratonin reuptake inhibitors make for Eternal Sunshine!

    • Ha! Well, thank you, Jan. Google is my friend. :D

      Writing on movies like this one winds up being easy, actually. Its so rich, it gives you so much to talk about, you know?

      There’s times with some of the others that it can be a little more difficult, but “Sunshine” made it easy on me. ;)

  10. Love that you talked about this one, Dan. This is one of my absolute favourite movies of all time, and you reminded me of all the reasons I love it so much. It’s such a beautiful film and truly makes you think. Mostly just wanted to say thank you for representing this one so well. Great work!

    • My pleasure, of course! Representing these movies well is one of the goals on these… They’re all great movies, the trick is just reflecting that.

      I love this one too, it’s so crazy good, you know? It’s inventive and unique and honest. After writing it up, I realize I’ve gotta bump it up my list of favorites, not sure where it is, but it’s not high enough, LOL

      Glad you enjoyed the read, Shelby!

      • Totally agree. I like what you said about it blending so many different aspects so well. It’s funny and romantic and sad, but everything runs so much deeper than that. It shows the beautiful moments of two people being completely in love and then those gut wrenching moments of bitterness and pain when things unravel.

        It’s also so dreamlike and unique. I remember watching it for the first time having rented it on a whim and having no idea what to expect. And it blew me away. Definitely a work of art. If forced to choose a favourite movie, I might have to pick this one.

    • Thanks Amanda, this one seems to be getting a lot of people today who have it as one of their faces.

      I’m glad it registers so highly with people, because it’s so great, but it also reflects well on all the visitors here that we all have such good taste! LOL :D

  11. What’s funny about the fact that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my top ten fave movies is that despite the fact that I LOVE Kaufman flicks, I’m not a huge fan of Carrey or Winslet; yet, I love them in this AND their chemistry just really fits.

    Love your speaking to the ethics involved, “Wouldn’t the removal of our regrets and the cleansing of our unpleasant memories be tantamount to anaesthetizing ourselves from reality?” And in that, would we not continue to make the same mistakes & receive pain on top of pain on top of pain; only to need to be “cleaned” again by Lacuna, no doubt. I’d rather take my hurts in life & learn from them and feel true joy when it comes my way!

    Great MTESS pick Dan and not only should everyone see it, but they should see it again! :)

    • Yeah, I’ll back you up on that… Seeing it again this weekend to write this up just brought it to a whole new level of esteem for me. I’ve seen it more than once already, but this time it just seemed extra super brilliant. Maybe because I’m blogging now? I dont know…

      I like Carrey and Winslet both… I dont know that either go to the top of my lists or anything, but theyre both very talented. They shine here though. My favorite moive for each of them, hands down!

      Glad you enjoyed, Kim!! :D

  12. Quite the philosopher you are, Fogs! Love can be both crushing and freeing; a leap of faith, where one is not sure if they will soar in flight or hit the bottom of the cavern. But that jump is so freeing, is it not? I always admire when Jim Carrey takes on more serious roles; it shows another side to himself.

    • Heh! Yep, that’s me. Philospher Fogs! :D

      This is an easy flick to “wax poetic” about, you know? It really makes it easy, doesnt it?

      Carrey did SO well here, I wish he had more serious roles that were of this calibre!

  13. Pingback: Duke & The Movies :: With A Little Help From My Friends

  14. Great pick. Love this movie; even today I think it’s one of the best films made in our time about relationships, inside, outside, all around, for better or for worse and what have you. There’s little ground it doesn’t cover, and though I haven’t seen a the film fresh in a long time, I’d honestly say it hits all the bases, perfectly.

    Love isn’t always kind and gentle; it can be painful and wrenching, the kind of thing you experience for real and then immediately wish you hadn’t ever felt. (Thus leading into the conceit of the film.) And I think that there’s some boldness to the fact that Eternal Sunshine isn’t afraid to say that.

    • Agreed. Its a brave and honest film. And that adds to what was already an inventive, unique movie. High calibre, as it were.

      I’d give it a revisit, in a lot of ways, I had forgotten how great it was. I mean, I remembered it was great, but seeing it brought that to an entirely different level for me. I was stunned at how awesome it was, even though I was already a big fan.

    • Cool, Nedi, glad you like this one.

      I think its awesome. The style of it alone would make it worth watching, but its also got that incredible script and great acting. Its a great, great flick in my opinion… :D

  15. This is indeed a great movie, and your review sums up it’s amazing vision really well. When I worked at a video store, I tried to get more people to watch this, but well… they’d rather watch Liar Liar instead.

    • Oh. Man.

      Isn’t that a sad indictment of our society right there? LOL.

      I can totally see that. Kind of turns my stomach, but… its so true.

      Glad you like it though, that’s good to hear. This is an excellent, excellent flick!

  16. I cannot believe this film didn’t even get nominated for a Best Picture. This is one of my favorite films of all time. To say that Jim Carrey was understated in this film would in itself be the understatement of a century!! I’m glad someone reviewed this classic. Nice work.

    • Thanks Tom! At least it won best Original Screenplay… and got Winslet a nomination for best actress. but you’re right. How does it not get at least a best picture nom? And franklt, given the nominees that year (Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways) … this one should have won outright!

      Oh well, can’t change it. At least AFI was smart enough to put it in their top ten for the year that year!

      Thanks for chiming in!

    • Awesome Cosmo! Glad to hear you enjoyed it! Have a look around, hopefully there’s some other posts you’ll like too :D

      “Eternal Sunshine” is just an incredible film, isn’t it? Movies that good don’t come along everyday…

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