Whether you constantly binge-watch films in rapid fire succession or indulge in them as an occasional treat every now and then, you probably have been asked the question, “What is your favorite film of all time?”. As much as I have grown to truly adore movies with a fervent passion, this question only continues to get more difficult to answer as time goes on. But if I had to pick one from a cornucopia of quality cinema throughout the years, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would probably be near the top of my list. It is an incredibly imaginative and exquisitely shot film, both in aesthetic and in the emotional undertones that arise from watching it.
*This review might have potential spoilers*
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a feature directed by Michel Gondry, with the screenplay handled by Charlie Kaufman, was the first movie that I’ve watched that had my brain in knots and my face brimming with salty tears at the same darn time. Right at the start of the film, we are introduced to Joel (played by Jim Carrey), a socially-withdrawn and slightly disheveled individual. On one chilly winter morning, he decides to skip a day of work by ditching his usual train ride commute at a New York transit center. After some slight trepidation, he makes a mad dash towards a train that’s headed to Montauk. Through this momentary impulse, Joel meets a quirky and blue-haired woman named, Clementine (played by Kate Winslet), basically the exact opposite of Joel. She’s immensely extroverted and more uninhibited with regards to the way she articulates her thoughts and words around other people. Even though Joel initially tries to brush Clementine aside rather briskly when she starts to talk with him out of the blue, they instantly spark positive vibes with one another and have a very passionate and rapturous conversation; it looked and sounded like a match made in heaven despite their dissimilar personalities.
One narrative curveball that will initially have you scratching your head in confusion but slowly becomes clearer as it all unfolds in front of you is that the start of the film is actually in conjunction with the melancholic end of Joel and Clementine’s once affectionate relationship in a past life. Through cleverly fastidious and painstakingly detailed camerawork, we discover that Joel slowly comes to the realization that Clementine has erased all of the memories from her mind that involved both of them together at an obscure facility that specializes in memory-erasing. In a state of inconsolable heartbreak, Joel decides to head to that shady establishment to go through the same procedure as well by setting up an impromptu appointment with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak. As he sits tentatively in a dank office chair with a circular metallic contraception tethered tightly to his head, Joel starts to wonder if what he’s doing is the right thing.
As some of his memories are slowly being wiped away into oblivion, the audience gets to voyeuristically witness Joel’s personal recollections (both the good and bad) of the time that he shared with Clementine. In a non-linear fashion, we see flashbacks of his bond with her: the way it beautifully came to fruition and sadly crumbled apart. Their heart-to-heart conversations; the time they lied down side by side on top of a frozen river; their mundane arguments and verbal spats; the personal fears that they disclosed with one another; the sights and smells that permeated their surroundings – Joel gets to relive all these tender moments before they are slowly taken away from him forever.
For a movie that chronicles the forlorn demise of a happy relationship, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a pretty romantic film. From the awkwardly timid start to the bittersweet conclusion, the profoundly evocative soundtrack from Jon Brion, this work encapsulates all the emotional currents that might be running through your mind during a period of love and vulnerability with a special person in your life. The underlying beauty of this tale is that, despite all of the painful and vitriolic memories that are more than likely bound to happen in any given relationship, all of the moments of tranquil happiness and joy (even if it’s short-lived) is more personally gratifying compared to never experiencing any hardships in establishing human connection with others.
Even at the conclusion, when Joel and Clementine accept the brutishly harsh reality that their feelings of attachment towards one another will most probably end in an untimely demise (again), they still decide to take a chance since the tender moments that are shared between the two of them is more than enough to overshadow the eventual downfall and sadness that will ensue. While this kind of ending might come off as a tad morbid and depressing to some viewers, I find it to be more deep and emotionally-compelling compared to the typical “they lived happily ever after” formula that’s ingrained within most romance films because a lot of real-life relationships aren’t always rose-colored and permanent.
Now it would be a heinous act for me to not mention my thoughts on the acting performances from the two lead roles, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Jim’s comedic roles in movies such as Ace Ventura, and Dumb and Dumber, and his portrayal of Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events was wildly entertaining (even if it was not accurate to how Olaf is depicted in the books), but it was cool seeing Jim doing a complete 180 by acting as a more reserved and sheepish character; it shows that Jim Carrey is a multifaceted actor and not a one-trick pony. Kate Winslet’s role also deserves some kudos. At first glance, Clementine looks like a prototypical caricature of any other hipster girl/love interest (constantly dying her hair different colors, an eccentric personality) but she isn’t idealized as a perfect and fantastical figure, she does have her own share of personal flaws and insecurities regarding her own self-image. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman do an amazing job of crafting characters that you might not normally associate with romantic films, genuine and earnestly heartfelt. As cringe-inducing as this might sound, I do see a little bit of myself in both Joel and Clementine.
All in all, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a surreal and captivatingly engaging movie on the beauty and frailty of human relationships. This work of art exemplifies how important memories are since they shape our persona and define our overall identity. Without memories, we would live lives that are not only empty, but also void of any empathy and intrinsic value.