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December 11, 2013


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

by Franz Patrick

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

With the help of a friend, Joel (Jim Carrey) discovers that Clementine (Kate Winslet), his ex-girlfriend, has decided to delete him from her memory after they broke up the night before. Thunderstruck that such a procedure is even possible, he nonetheless decides to pay Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) a visit and ask if he can undergo the same treatment. Although Joel sleeps during the memory-destruction process, he is able to revisit the times he spent with Clementine and experience exactly which events are being plucked from his brain. Eventually, Joel comes to the conclusion that forgetting what they had is not worth it and wishes to stop the process. Although he screams as loudly as he can in his mind, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) continue to erase.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” succeeds because the myriad risks it takes are deeply-rooted in two factors: our curiosity in discovering the precise point in which Joel and Clementine’s relationship had gone sour and, after having seen and felt the dynamics of their relationship, our yearning for them to reconnect again, obtain proper closure that both of them deserve, and hopefully move on.

The ambitious screenplay by Charlie Kaufman is supported by Michel Gondry’s calculated and astute direction. The filmmakers do a great job masking the formula during the memory-destruction process: Joel and Clementine jump into a seemingly ordinary scene and the more they speak to each other, colors and images slowly begin to erode until the environment ceases to exist. Even though it repeats, it does not feel like a painfully hackneyed cycle because we consistently learn something in terms of how Joel evaluates himself and his partner and how the two of them, as a couple, measure against what society expect a boyfriend-girlfriend should be. Through the procedure, despite Joel’s increasingly rapid rate of forgetting, it becomes clearer to us why he and Clementine have broken up… and why it might be worth giving it another shot.

Although the most visually stimulating scenes involve the audience being thrusted into Joel’s mind as he desperately tries to hide Clementine from deletion, I also enjoyed the conflict outside Joel’s body. That is, the moral and ethical responsibility Dr. Mierzwiak and his colleagues have—or should have—toward their patients especially considering that the procedure is still at an experimental stage. The material also suggests that even though the nature of the service they perform is strange, the space they inhabit remains to be a place of work. The fantastic elements are rooted in something real.

First, we learn that Patrick manages to worm his way into Clementine’s life, only a day after her procedure, and uses Joel’s words to lure the woman into falling for him. Secondly, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the practice’s receptionist, feels the need to express her romantic feelings toward Dr. Mierzwiak even though she knows that he has a wife and children. The subplots are handled with elegance and each leads up to an emotional punch that comments on good and bad relationships alike.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” supports that romantic films of all sorts—yes, even romantic comedies—can inspire given that the writing manages to capture a creative spark and actually does something with it. Many movies are not worth repeated viewings. This is an exception.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 11 2013

    One of my favorite rom-coms of all time. Actually, scratch that! One of my favorite movies of all time. That’s better. Good review Franz.

    • Dec 11 2013

      I’m not surprised it’s a lot of people’s favorite movies. It’s very modern, romantic, creative visually, and it offers some good insights when it comes to what makes relationships work (or don’t work).

  2. Dec 11 2013

    This is definitely my favorite movie of this century so far. That woman in the doctor’s office getting the procedure to forget her dog makes me cry every time. though.

    • Dec 11 2013

      That is a big statement. Wow.

      Though I must say: I thought your pick would be more exotic! ;)

      I remember that scene very clearly! But the one image that stuck with me and thus pops in my head each time I come across the title online or DVD at Wal-Mart, is the kitchen sink scene. I’m so curious how they shot that. Everything about that sequence works.


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