Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Released March 19, 2004 (US)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated R for language, some drug use, and sexual content.

Cast (shortlist):

Jim Carrey              Joel Barish
Kate Winslet            Clementine Kruczynski
Elijah Wood             Patrick
Mark Ruffalo            Stan
Tom Wilkinson           Dr. Howard Mierzwaik
Kirsten Dunst           Mary

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind..."
- Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard

It can be said that our personalities are the sum total of our memories, along with a few other minor factors. The memories shape our neural pathways and alter our brain topography, thus impacting future thought via the change in structure along with the feedback associated with conscious recollection and application of the memories to our present state of mind.

This has been a subject that's always fascinated me, because I suffer from a memory filled with craters and canyons, memories stuffed deep into mental crevasses that take much digging to unearth. Sitting and thinking about anything more than 4 years ago, without some sort of stimulus to jog specific memories, leaves huge gaps in my personal history. I treasure the memories I have which are easily accessible, and curse my brain for making it so hard to remember good times (and bad) long past. Asked what's it like not being able to recall much of your childhood or teen years, I can't even begin to formulate a reasonable answer.

So when a movie comes along about a person voluntarily, nay, enthusiastically submitting to a purge of memories, I can't help but be fascinated. When I saw the trailer for the first time, not two weeks ago, I said to myself something along the lines of, "Jim Carrey. In a film about memory loss, love, and life. I'm intrigued." I needed only to hear the screenplay was penned by none other than Charlie Kaufman to be sold hook, line, and sinker.

"The advantage of a bad memory
is that one enjoys several times
the same good things for the first time."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

The movie opens with our introduction to Joel Barish, played aptly by Jim Carrey, crawling out of a somnolent daze and beginning his morning routine. In voice-over, he begins a string of short, witty and insightful comments that he commits to his journal/sketchpad while we view him almost getting to work. Moments from boarding the train to head to his job, he does something entirely impulsive and hastily boards another train to Montauk. He calls in to work, walks along the beach and through the town, crossing paths with the blue-haired Clementine several times. Each successive encounter, she begins making more of an effort to make contact with him, and finally succeeds on the train ride back home.

Carrey plays Joel as an introverted nice guy, utterly unsure of himself, unable to so much as "make eye contact with an attractive woman," in his own words, and generally affable if difficult to approach. Clementine, on the other hand, is extroverted, socially aggressive, and perhaps a bit brash. In other words, the yin to his yang. Though awkward at first, their relationship is shown slowly developing through the first few minutes of the film and begins to look as if it might be a burgeoning romance.

And Kaufman's brilliant writing kicks in, transporting us from Joel sitting happily in his car, waiting for Clem to join him for a trip back to his place, to him driving along at night, bawling his eyes out in a fit of heartbreak.

We find that his relationship with Clem has since terminated, and it seems as if they were a couple for a fairly long duration. Eager to get her back, Joel attempts to make contact with her at work - But not only does she not seem to recognize him in the least, she appears to have already struck up a romance with a mysterious other suitor.

Joel eventually discovers that upon the breakdown of their relationship, Clem underwent a procedure to erase all aspects of Joel from her memory. Devastated by this, he seeks out the doctor who performed the procedure to have it performed on him as well.

"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most."
- Ozzy Osbourne

As the memory destruction begins, we begin see into Joel's mind, reliving his moments with Clem in chronologically reverse order. We see the sour end of the relationship transition into a sweet and charming beginning, and so does Joel's subconscious, present as the memories are wiped out by the memory technicians. Realizing these are things he would like to hold on to and not forget, he attempts to hold on to the memories and prevent their destruction.

Meanwhile, other plot threads emerge that begin to highlight the urgency and importance to him retaining Clem's impact on his life. Eventually, we see the genius of the way the narrative thread was constructed in this movie, and though it can be realized perhaps a little sooner than intended by astute viewers, that doesn't distract from its brilliance.

"As memory may be a paradise from which we cannot be driven,
it may also be a hell from which we cannot escape."

- John Lancaster Spalding, Aphorisms and Reflections

The movie says a great deal about human nature and how we are affected by our romantic disasters. While the result of a breakup is often harsh, deeply depressing, and scarring to the point where we just wished we could forget it, eventually those memories serve to be reference points, and the good times we can recall eventually overtake the initial anguish. Further, those memories serve to further define our personalities, and if you are satisfied with the person you are today, you would perhaps be an entirely different person if you didn't recall those events which shaped you.

The rich tapestry of emotional highs and lows only serves to help us appreciate that which is beautiful in life. When one's level of happiness exists on a mundane line, there is nothing to look forward to but more of the same, and is that a life worth living?

The movie strongly hints so, and the resolution of the film supports the idea that it is far better to remember that which is painful than to give back memories that warm our hearts.

""When I was younger, I could remember anything,
whether it had happened or not."

- Mark Twain

Aside from the superb acting of Carrey and Winslet, director and frequent Kaufman kollaborator Michael Gondry provides us with some of the most innovative and dynamic scenes committed to film in recent memory. Especially beautiful and, at the same time, frightening, are those scenes in which we see Joel struggling to escape the erasure of a memory, grabbing the hand of Clem and trying to ferry her away from a fading scene that will soon be lost to him forever. The style of disappearance varies with each memory; some are jarring, items being wiped from the scene one by one while the background fades, others far more subtle and slow. The techniques were extremely effective, and the visuals are a treat as few transitions are utilized more than once.

The score was most excellent, and the insertion of pre-existing soft-pop songs in between the original composition fit in flawlessly. Ambient, melodic, and at times frantic, the score nonetheless doesn't distract much from everything else which is occurring. Honestly, my first time through I failed to really note anything especially noticeable about the music - However, some of the best scores are those which merely serve to amplify that which is shown and spoken without drawing any attention away. In this respect it most certainly succeeded.

So what are we looking at? A movie which is beautiful, thought provoking, well performed, incredibly written, and impossible to forget - Even for a sieve-brained man like myself. At least, I suppose it will be. Ask me about it in 4 years.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Soundtrack

Released March 16, 2004 (US) on Hollywood Records
Original Score composed by Jon Brion. All tracks sung, produced, and mixed by him unless noted.

Track Listing:

  1. Theme
  2. Mr. Blue Sky performed by Electric Light Orchestra
  3. Collecting Things
  4. Light & Day performed by Polyphonic Spree
  5. Bookstore
  6. It's the Sun performed by Polyphonic Spree
  7. Wada Na Tod performed by Lata Mangeshkar
  8. Showtime
  9. Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes performed by Beck
  10. Sidewalk Flight
  11. Some Kinda Shuffle performed by Don Nelson
  12. Howard Makes It All Go Away
  13. Something performed by Willowz
  14. Postcard
  15. I Wonder performed by Willowz
  16. Peer Pressure
  17. A Dream Upon Waking
  18. Strings That Tie to You
  19. Phone Call
  20. Nola's Bounce performed by Don Nelson
  21. Down the Drain
  22. Row
  23. Drive in
  24. Main Title
  25. Spotless Mind
  26. Elephant Parade

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