Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Breathtaking

Pavan Cheruku

Your heart feels like it’s being hijacked by a drummer in an amateur rock band. You’re certain everyone can hear its thunderous beat, which reverberates in your ears with the same intensity as striking a piñata in an empty stairway. You’re simultaneously improvising a presentation for World Geography class you put together just 30 minutes ago since you spent the last few nights binge-watching live performances of The Strokes (your favorite band). Your saving grace is the one flashcard you were allowed to use during the presentation, which you’ve crammed so intensely with notes that it looks like an interpretive post-modernist painting. As you begin explaining the characteristics of Temperate Forests, the flashcard feels like ice against the nervous heat of your body. It drops. You drop. Everyone in class is pointing and laughing—even the teacher. And there’s nothing you could wish for more than to forget it all happened.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a strong contender for my favorite movie of all time, explores our desire to forget difficult or painful memories. Directed by Michel Gondry, this 2004 masterpiece blends the genres of science fiction, psychological thriller, comedy, and romance. The screenplay was provided by the legendary Charlie Kaufman, who penned other deeply imaginative films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.

Gondry’s masterpiece revolves around the broken relationship between Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). After a particularly riling fight between the couple, Clementine impulsively decides to undergo a procedure to forget about Joel and their relationship. Joel is blindsided by her decision and decides to forget Clementine as well. Midway through the procedure, however, Joel soon realizes he doesn’t want to forget her. Much of the rest of the story takes place in his mind, as Joel revisits key memories from their relationship, desperately trying not to forget Clementine. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind features twists and turns, uses nonlinear storytelling, and is an unbelievably entertaining emotional roller coaster. You’re almost guaranteed to laugh or cry at least once during its 108 minute runtime.

The acting and character development in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are excellent, making the film incredibly rewatchable. Joel and Clementine are relatable characters, and their chemistry is wholesome. My favorite Jim Carrey performance is his role as Joel. Carrey conveys his character’s social awkwardness and cynicalism exceedingly well, which makes learning about Joel’s failed relationship and insecurities compelling. Furthermore, Kate Winslet gives one of her best performances as Clementine. She imbues her character with enough personality to power a Jumbo Passenger Jet. Winslet’s portrayal of Clementine also counters the manic pixie dream girl archetype that paints female characters in movies as static characters with no character development of their own, solely existing to save a male protagonist from himself.

The cinematography and thematic narratives woven throughout Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind also deserve praise. Shot design helps the audience understand how Joel feels at different points of his relationship with Clementine. During a particularly vulnerable scene, techniques such as a shaky handheld camera, an eye-level angle, suffocating lighting, and the sound of his hyperventilation were used to help a viewer see from his perspective. 

The thematic narrative I drew from this film is that all memories, good and bad, are a part of who we are. The most devastating experiences tend to teach us the most, so we should be hesitant to conclude that ignorance is bliss. In the case of a difficult break-up, using a procedure like the one depicted in this movie would keep people from being able to truly move on. 

I will never be able to give enough praise to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film is a breathtaking feat of storytelling, cinematography, and acting. It is a masterpiece. I will give Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind an A+.