Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out in 2004. It was directed by Michel Gondry, and written by Gondry, along with Pierre Bismuth and Charlie Kaufman. The Film follows an estranged couple who have erased each other from their memories. The ensemble cast includes Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The title of the Film is taken from “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope.
The Film plays at times like a psychological thriller and uses nonlinear narrative storytelling to explore the nature of memory and romantic love. Time and Alternate Reality shifts, and the realm of the unconscious play a significant role, as does the idea of memory.
The movie won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Kate Winslet received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Since its release and initial recognition, the movie has developed a cult following.
Ahead may contain spoilers – Spoiler Alert from here on.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is my Favorite Film. It touches on something in me that is almost impossible to articulate. Its impact often feels beyond words. Since the first time I saw it, I’ve felt a deep connection/kinship with the character of Clementine (Kate Winslet). The way I relate is both in good ways and bad. Sometimes there is so much raw truth reflected at me it hurts to watch. But, I keep watching because I’ve never found a Film yet that hits me the way this one does.
Most of the time Clementine and Joel gift a strange comfort to me. A comfort that makes me feel less alone in my own flavor of fucked up girl-ness. I get Clementine. I get Joel. I get what they have, what they lose, and what they fight so damn hard to hold on to in the end.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love story to me. The most real kind of love story. So perfect in all its glaring, messy imperfectness.
Flawed characters. Love that knows no limits. Love that persists despite seemingly impossible challenges, like erased memories. A story filled with alternate and intersecting realities. Impulsiveness, passion, confliction, loss, restlessness, joy, bliss, forgiveness, and love. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind speaks to my persistent nature, my hopelessly romantic side, and the ways I’ve been broken, and pieced back together by love, life, and self-reliance.
The Film touches on loneliness, too. Loneliness pervades every character, and at times directs their decisions.
We are shown Joel’s loneliness from the start, his grief, and his somber solitude. When he says “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” illustrates his loneliness and self-doubt. I think in many ways Joel feels invisible, and desperately wants to be seen.
Clementine runs from loneliness, trying to keep just enough steps ahead that it doesn’t touch her (even though it is what fuels her running). She changes her image, she erases Joel from her memory, she exhibits many markers of borderline personality disorder, especially in her need for attention and love, even though she shoves it away at times. Loneliness is weaved into all of Clementine.
Another thing to contemplate about Clementine. I’ve seen references to Clementine as being a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, a descriptive that has some personal pain to it for me. I know in my life I’ve tried to be that. Maybe not exactly Manic or Pixie, or a Dream Girl, but I’ve tried to be the “Cool Girl”, the kind referenced in the Book Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Thing is, that kind of fake self cannot be sustained, and I think eventually the “Girl” in that facade fights it, resents it, and runs from it. I think if anything Clementine is seen as an “MPDG” by Joel, at first, and maybe for awhile, but that shatters and she pushes back at it and eventually runs. I think at the end, when they are face to face in the hallway, after hearing on the tapes what became of them once, it is impossible for her to ever be anything but Clementine. I think if anything this film takes that notion of an “MPDG” and lets us see it fall apart.
But there are more characters than Joel and Clementine. The others tend to be forgotten when this Film is referenced. Look up Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and you’ll see that pages and pages of Clementine and Joel will show up, screenshots, Movie stills, photos, fanart, even the posters tend to have the two of them only. But, there are other stories and characters that are integral to the plot, and to the story of Clementine and Joel, and how they get to their ending/beginning.
Mary (Kirsten Dunst) is a devoted employee of Lacuna and is devoted to Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). We don’t realize how devoted, or how complex, her devotion is. We also do not learn how important Mary is until the end. Mary plays a key role in how Clementine and Joel ultimately end/begin.
Mary is also the key to proving that erasing memories of love completely is impossible. Remnants remain, and at least in this Fictional reality, we all return back to that person we love and sought to forget every time.
Stan (Mark Ruffalo) is devoted to Mary, though I don’t think she realizes to what extent. Despite his devotion, though, he keeps a secret from her for what seems like complex reasons. Stan is not as integral to the main plot, but his relationship with Mary, and also his acquaintance to his co-worker Patrick (Elijah Wood) help to move the plot along. Does that make Stan a plot device? Partially, yes, but the writing and characters are so rich in this that it doesn’t feel stilted or flimsy as most plot devices tend to be.
Patrick could also be construed as a plot device. He is manipulating the “matrix”, to borrow from another film, to cheat the outcome of a relationship he wants with Clementine. He thinks if he repeats all the same things that Joel did, she will fall in love with him like she did with Joel. This brings up another “truth” in this Fictional reality, that it is not just the actions of love and relationships that are important, or even necessary to the love, but the people. It’s an interesting thing to think about.
When I think of the relationship I’m in, and the man I love, I know that it isn’t the details of it all. Even though the both of us cherish these small things – memories, inside jokes, tokens, and gifts, places we’ve been, Music we’ve shared – it is that we have these things together, he and I, that makes them part of our love. Isolated, these are just items and moments, they don’t define the love we feel, but they are part of it. If we took all those away I believe we would still love each other, and we would start building new ones together.
They are the limbs of us, the dressing, the socks, and hat, they are part of us, but we can live without them. Love is like that, too. I think that is some of what is conveyed here within this unconventional, flaw-filled, love story.
What happens after the credits roll? Do Clementine and Joel survive? Do they live to repeat the same mistakes that had them trying to erase each other from their memories? What happens to Mary? Does she leave town, change her name, try to forget and move on? What about Patrick and Stan? Is Patrick running a Pyramid scheme business? Is Stan working in a Psychologists office, or in some other cutting edge, scientific field? Did Dr. Mierzwiak retire?
We can answer these questions in our imaginations? If you are like me, I root for Clementine and Joel to make it. And maybe you hope Mary finds something she doesn’t need to forget about later. I know I do.
What I know for certain is that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will always be my Favorite Movie and that each time I watch it I see and feel another something, and I start thinking again about layers of the story, and how it relates to me, to life, and to love.