Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, is an inventive, trippy, kinetic, psychological deep dive into moments past. It deals with love and memories in a unique and immersive way. The premise of having a procedure to remove someone from your memories feels like a timeless request, especially when it comes to relationships. Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) learns early on that his spontaneous, temperamental ex Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) has had this procedure and decides to erase her from his memories too: it’s a form of brain damage, but on par with a heavy night of drinking eh (as Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) from the company offering the service says). A majority of the film takes place in Joel’s head as we watch his memories with Clementine get wiped. But he quickly realises that he doesn’t want to forget; the crux of the film is him trying to overcome the invasive procedure and hold on to Clementine.
We jump into Joel’s psyche and are transported to the peaks and troughs of his relationship with Clementine. Setting the film in Joel’s memories gives the film an abstract quality, as scenes from his past blend together in wacky ways. Locations, people and things disappear and morph as Joel runs from memory to memory frantically trying to retain all he can. From the muddled recesses of his mind emerge distorted figures and faces, voices bleed into scenes from external sources and everything combines to create a layered piece. This textured quality helps to evoke Joel’s tumultuous sense of panic, especially when combined with the absurd, striking elements in the film. There’s one scene in particular in which, in order to prevent all his memories of Clementine being removed, Joel decides to trick the system by taking her to a memory not associated with her. As such he takes her to a childhood memory which sees the use of forced perspective as he becomes the child version of himself (although still in his adult body). It’s bold and experimental with visceral scenes. Yet spectacle doesn’t take away from the raw emotions the film is able to convey; pain and love are both still presented in a very realistic and tangible way.
The non-linear narrative does well to situate us in Joel’s perspective, which is confused and muddled. There’s an energy prevalent throughout which creates anxiety, as Joel comes to realise he doesn’t want to erase Clementine from his mind anymore, but is powerless to stop the procedure. And what works so well in the film is how we also see the flip side of those performing the procedure and how chaotic everything is. These scenes stressed me out because they’re dealing with Joel’s mind, but are removed from the realities of what’s going on and take advantage by drinking and leaving the programme on auto to complete Joel’s process. They’re too relaxed and too blasé. Elijah Wood’s Patrick, I found particularly enraging, as he exploits Joel and his possessions to establish a relationship with Clementine himself.
Thematically the film explores everything from the heart-wrenching moments of a break-up to more profound ethical questions regarding the nature of memories. Even though Joel and Clementine have their memories of the other removed, they still manage to find their way back to each other, a very idealistic conclusion. In a way they’ve passed the test; their connection is re-formed against all odds. But we also see how the procedure fails Mary’s character (Kirsten Dunst) as she repeats her past actions and again makes a move on Tom Wilkinson’s Dr. Mierzwiak. So for her it’s a hinderance. She repeats actions that she has no knowledge of. Hence the takeaway that deleting memories does not help people to move on, but leaves them stuck, and due to their ignorance they’re vulnerable and unprotected from making the same mistakes. For Joel and Clementine, despite knowing it ended badly the first time round they decide to give it another shot because it’s worth it to them. To me the ending shows that Joel has in fact grown as he’s become more courageous. Eternal Sunshine doesn’t align with either side, but shows the beautiful moments that come to build a relationship and how precious these little moments really are.