Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind: Film Analysis
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry have created a film whose mission was to make a tribute to the self-erasing memory and its fragility through the company Lacuna, which is a workplace that claims they can erase people from your memories. The movie is saturated with Kaufman’s affection towards the lonely and vulnerable. One cold morning, moody and introvert Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) decides impulsively to skip work and take a train out to Montauk. There, he bumps into a woman who is the exact opposite of Joel, an extrovert named Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). The two talk on the train ride back to New York, and over a couple of days, their love begins to grow. As with Kaufman’s earlier scripts, things soon turn complicated. This love between Joel and Clementine would not be like what they predicted. The two of them have, in fact, just recently broken up after two years of living together. Clementine had all memory of Joel erased from her mind by a company called Lacuna to ease her mind off of Joel. Discovering Clementine’s actions and feeling betrayed, Joel decides to have the procedure performed on himself as well. That night, he is put unconscious in his bed as the technicians from Lacuna work inside his head after creating a map of his memories, As each of the memories he has with Clementine is being erased, Joel relives them. The erasing process works backward in time, beginning with the most recent memories(just like the movie itself). As the process reaches the beginning of their relationship, where all of there most joyous moments take place, Joel finds that he is strangely unwilling to abandon his memories of the woman he loved, no matter how unbearably painful they are. He tries desperately to find the deepest corner of his mind where he can hide Clementine. These memories are mostly of Joel’s childhood as these are the only memories he has without Clementine being in them. This is the way he chooses to hide from the technicians from Lacuna as they are only programmed to trace the memory map they created. He watches helplessly as, one by one, each memory is irreversibly lost. This process takes place as passersby disappear, faces are distorted and then Clementine too vanishes, only to reappear in another doomed recollection, all the way back to their very first meeting, at a beach party in Montauk. This entire section is breathtakingly visual, melting several bad dreams into one, and Mr. Gondry’s swift, improvised direction bleaches the portentousness from the conception.
The story-told-in-reverse is a common movie device, usually utilized to conceal information from the audience. However, in this case, Kaufman and Gondry use it to not uncover any hidden facts but forgotten emotions. This was especially important because as more and older memories were visited, Joel came to many revelations.
Eternal Sunshine loses its way on occasion, particularly in the sequences where Joel reverts first to childhood and then to infancy in his effort to find a place in his memory where he can hide Clementine. In both scenes, the character we are watching onscreen tends to be Joel Barrish and becomes immediately recognizable as Jim Carrey and his previous movies. The mugging and weeping Carrey brings to these scenes might be funny in another context, but they relate to nothing else in the tone or the character developed with Joel Barrish in the film. Throughout the whole movie without these exceptions, Carrey is refreshingly un-Carrey here, creating a contrary to the hyperactivity with which Winslet inculcates Clementine.
Eternal Sunshine, of course, wouldn’t be complete without Gondry’s wisdom and nuance. Movies often portray memories and dream states which are made up of gaudy colors and absurdist landscapes. However, Gondry takes the opposite course with an aggressive lack of style. Throughout the movie, scenes are dimly lit and filmed from a lower level which gives the movie an almost documentary feel. Even when special effects are called for, for example when the faces disappear and objects pop off, Gondry diminishes them as much as possible. This creates a cinematic vagueness that makes the actions taking place more persuasive.
Eternal Sunshine’s freedom is not limited to its look. One of the least remarked upon achievements of the film is just how unmemorable Joel and Clementine’s relationship is. Its general contours are clear enough, Clementine always pushing and testing, Joel always retreating and quiet. The dialogue is unremarkable at especially depicting the contrast between the personality of Clementine and Joel. Just a day of seeing it, the memories that I have of the movie has faded and is more like a dream. This does not suggest that the movie is forgettable as I’m still clinging to the abstract visuals and strange emotions that it left behind.