Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

English Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Country of Origin: USA

Director: Michel Gondry

Producer(s): Steve Golin

Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman

Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras

Art Director: David Stein

Runtime: 108 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kate Winslet

Year: 2004

Volume: American - Independent

A world that looks like ours, but cannot possibly be. Joel Barish, an introvert thirty-something hobbyist cartoonist meets Clementine Kruczynski, a more assertive paperback fanatic ostensibly looking, as she puts it, ‘for her own piece of mind’. In the ‘first’ story (the two run parallel), which is recounted through Joel’s receding memories, the two meet, fall in love, fall out of love, part – and then have their memories of one another surgically removed (putting the ‘own’ in own piece of mind). In the ‘second’, occurring in the present, they meet again, fall in love once more – and, perhaps, will fall out of it all the same.

Looking back, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind now seems to have been, at once, ahead of its time and adjacent to it. It shares with such contemporaries as The Brown Bunny (2003) and the overrated Memento (2000) a successful negotiation of the commercial demands of its financiers with the critical requirements of its perceived audience (which raises questions, of course, about what constitutes ‘independent’); it solves itself, if not as a puzzle, than at least as a riddle – rather than a linear piece of prose; and it reviews and revises medium- and generic conventions (such as, for one, the ‘happy ending’). One could, moreover, say that it draws extensively on a visual style and rhythm commonly associated with music videos, but then one would overlook the fact that much of that aesthetic was, in turn, itself inspired by director Michel Gondry’s music videos.


Yet the film also clearly anticipates a later trend in ‘indiewood’ cinema, perhaps best known as ‘quirky’. Indeed, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind focuses, like many ‘quirky’ films, on a slightly-untypical romantic pairing (let us call them the geek and the girl-with-the-looming-eyes). It has a tone which remains relatively light despite the potential gravity of the topic. It observes its protagonists from up-close, with mostly hand-held camera, and with a sympathetic eye (whereas many of its contemporaries and predecessors take a more distant, ‘objective’ approach). And, most importantly, it has a somewhat ‘childish’ aesthetic – not least in the scene in which Joel is actually transported into a world in which he is a child, surrounded by playful adults twice his size, navigating his way through colourful furniture that is too big for him. Gondry, of course, would perfect this aesthetic is in his later, somewhat disappointing, The Science of Sleep (2006).


First and foremost, however, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an extraordinary cinematic achievement in its own right. Gondry’s cut-and-paste vision, juxtaposing long shots with close-ups, and high angles with low angles, and blues with pinks, seems designed for Kaufman’s poetry of haphazard plot-turns and idiosyncratic dialogues – and that ending, oh that ending. And Jim Carrey is perhaps just that bit more convincing as the shy, withdrawn Joel because one can sense so well the extent to which he has to restrain himself – and is, at times, so clearly frustrated about it. Indeed, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might just be that rare feat: a film that is as well crafted as it is conceived; and that is as quick paced as it is contemplative.

Author of this review: Timotheus J.V. Vermeulen