Cult Classics: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Dani Klemes, web editor-in-chief

For a film about forgetting, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) is unforgettable. Directed by Michel Gondry and with a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” wanders into the complicated lives of two former lovers who, after both undergoing a mental procedure to erase each other from their memories, unexpectedly reunite on a Long Island Rail Road train in Montauk, N.Y. Image from picturestarts.wordpress.com

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to polar opposites: emotionally distraught Joel Barish (played by Jim Carrey) and brash, free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski (played by Kate Winslet). Apparently by chance, the two fall in love, spurring the passionate yet dysfunctional relationship that ultimately ends in their memory-deletion procedures: operations which are, according to Dr. Mierzwiak (played by Tom Wilkinson), “technically brain damage.” Midway through his procedure, though, Joel decides that he would like to remember Clementine after all, and the plot unravels into a dizzy narrative following his squirrelly attempts to preserve their relationship, or at least a fragmentary version of it.

The film is a cinematic maze: through Ellen Kuras’s cinematography, we are constantly jolted between the raw realism and absurd phantasms of Kaufman’s idealistic universe. Most of the film takes place inside Joel’s mind and the laws of time and space are constantly spurned as Kaufman weaves wisps of déjà vu with elements of reality. Even through Clementine’s changing hair color (which, debatably, represents the metamorphosis of her mood and relationship with Joel), we notice the subtle undertones that validate Kaufman’s ingenuity. Unlike his work in “Being John Malkovich,” which could easily be classified as borderline-neurotic, Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” script grasps the sweeter tones of idealism and romance.

Complementary to Kaufman’s bold screenplay, Gondry’s direction puts a modern spin on the “screwball comedy” genre. He effectively embraces the “comedy of remarriage” theme in which couples methodically reunite after a series of farcical events. Through his constant ‘ping-pong’ between subconsciousness and reality, Gondry maps out a world where memory is predominant in retaining not only an impacting event, but a tangible person.

Carrey’s goofy charm and Winslet’s quicksilver audacity mesh together to produce a twisted, original version of the cliched axiom ‘opposites attract.’ As a whole, the film is a piece of art. Gondry and Kaufman successfully develop a plot that surpasses the tiring, vapid elements present in other sci-fi/rom-com hybrids. The film, in a way, defies the basic principles of theology, fusing together science and religion and embracing the less palpable motifs of perception and memory.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is truly a cinematic treasure. Its quirky approach to serious topics merits it an 8 out of 10.

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