Posted by: ckckred | September 15, 2012

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: An Eternal Classic

One of the best films of the decade and perhaps of all time

Editor’s Note: I took a few week long short break from my Charlie Kaufman marathon. Sorry for the delay.

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

Out of all of Charlie Kaufman’s films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the writer’s most popular and highest praised.  Back in 2009, many critics included it on their “Best of the Decade” lists.  The AV Club, in fact, named it the Best Film of the Decade, ahead of such movies like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

And I totally agree with its acclaim.  Out of all of his films, Eternal Sunshine‘s my favorite of Kaufman (though I haven’t seen Synecdoche, New York yet) and it is perhaps his most accessible.  Eternal Sunshine is a film that tugs on your emotions and sticks in your head more than any other film.

The movie is about Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who like John Cusack’s and Nicholas Cage’s characters in two other Charlie Kaufman’s films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, is sad, gloomy, and lonely.  After skipping a day of work to go to Montauk, New York, he meets Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), who is the polar opposite of Joel.  Where Joel is a social outcast, Clementine seems to take in life.

The two immediately strike up a relationship and fall in love.  But soon their affair turns sour and Clementine, acting on an impulse, erases her memories of Joel in Lacuna Inc. a company that specializes in wiping away memories.  After Joel discovers this, he decides to do the same and goes to Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Thomas Wilkinson) to delete all of his memories of Clementine.

Lacuna Inc. is similar to another device in a Charlie Kaufman film, the portal to John Malkovich’s head in Being John Malkovich.  Simply the idea is hugely imaginative and creative and the way how Kaufman illustrates it is simply stunning.

Midway through his procedure, Joel changes mind.  He wants to remember Clementine and all the good experiences he’s had with her.  We see him going through his memories trying to protect Clementine in them.  We see moments from his childhood, humiliations, and embarrassments.  But we also see all of the great things he’s had in life.

In the meantime, Patrick (Elijah Wood), one of the people operating on Joel, uses his memories as an opportunity to hit on Clementine, who has now forgotten Joel.  When Joel discovers this (it’s really complicated to explain how this happened), he is infuriated and wants to escape from his mind and remember Clementine.

Much credit has to be given to director Michael Gondry.  I have never been to familiar with his work but he perfectly adapts Kaufman’s script just as Spike Jonze did for both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  There are scenes in Eternal Sunshine that seem nearly impossible to execute and yet he does it very well.

I can’t forget the performers as well.  I grew up watching many of Jim Carrey’s performances in comedies like Liar Liar and The Mask, but I have always felt his stronghold was in drama (another good example is The Truman Show).  Though I guess you can call Eternal Sunshine a dramedy, Carrey’s role is very serious and he plays it very well.  I was seriously stunned by his acting here.

Kate Winslet was just absolutely fantastic as Clementine and won an Oscar nomination for her performance (and she should have won).  She is funny in her role as well as being touching.  I honestly can’t think of any other actress who could have done this role as she could have as the material must have been quite strenuous.

And of course I have to give much credit to the script.  Charlie Kaufman, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth all wrote the story and Kaufman created the screenplay.  Eternal Sunshine is more serious than Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, but it still has bits of humor in it (as I mentioned with Kate Winslet’s role).  Some audience members will find the sequences in Joel’s mind confusing but I felt they ran very well.

What I understood from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the importance of memories.  Kaufman is arguing that what we remember is valuable in our lives.  It doesn’t just have to be about love but anything in your life.  We really learn more about Joel when we enter his end and we feel his frustration and sadness.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most brilliant and poignant films ever made.



  1. I agree. This was a wonderful film.

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