Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind : A Critical Review


“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d”

― Alexander Pope

A movie about love lost and love found, memories of pain and memories of happiness, memories lost and memories found.  Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry have made this movie look like an aesthetically pleasing yet haunting piece of art all at the same time.

The central premise of the movie revolves around one big question. What if we could scientifically erase certain people from our memory?

Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey), an introvert who likes to work with schedules, not too chatty, mostly keeps to himself and is cautious about everything. On the way to his work, waiting at the train station on a flunky Valentine’s morning, he impulsively decides to skip and instead take a train to Montauk. While on his journey, he meets Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) who is his polar opposite. Extrovert, chatty, impulsive, expressive, basically everything Joel is not. They get to talking on their way back to New York and over the span of two days, they start liking each other after going on a series of adventures.

Here is where the truth comes in. This, in fact turns out to be an older romance. Joel and Clementine had recently gotten out of a two year long, live-in relationship with each other. Their break-up was so bad that Clementine had wanted to move-on immediately for which she had had a procedure done by a clinic called Lacuna where they selectively erased all memories of Joel from her mind. Joel, after knowing this, got so mad that he decided to go through with the procedure as well.

They explain the procedure to him, how they make a map using their exchanged gifts, memoirs, anything material he owned which reminded him of her and then sequentially erase memories starting from the most recent to the oldest. The procedure began on the same night along with the introduction of another storyline – between Stan (Mark Ruffalo), his girlfriend Mary (Kirsten Dunst), his assistant Patrick (Elijah Wood) and the founder of Lacuna Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). While the procedure is being performed on Joel, Patrick admits to Stan that he’d fallen for Clementine and was going out with her when suddenly he gets a call from her asking him to meet her. Later in this storyline we see that Patrick tries to take on the personality of Joel to impress Clementine with the help of his diary entries, gifts, memoirs of their relationship. Stan, on the other hand, calls Mary over while he’s still erasing Joel’s memories and they start drinking and dancing over an unconscious Joel. They’re busy partying when Joel is inside his mind, trying to latch on to his memories.

The erasure starts from their most recent memories which are filled with fights, curses, taunts and what not. Slowly he reaches the good parts. The parts which make him realize that he still loves her. Immediately regretting his decision, he tries to get it to stop. He manages to escape the memory-map to salvage whatever was left of his and Clementine’s beautiful memories, twice. Stan notices, immediately calls Dr. Mierzwiak to get Joel back on track. He loses every memory of her, left with the one where they first met. On a beach, at a party. Where they broke into a house, but Joel had left early. Except this time, he doesn’t. Clementine’s last words in his memory remain – “Meet me in Montauk”.

When the doctor comes over to check on Joel earlier, we also find out that Mary has had a crush on the doctor. His wife ends up catching them together the same night, when it is revealed that they had, in fact, been in a relationship before but Mary had had her memory erased.

The next morning, Joel makes an “impulsive” decision to go to Montauk while Mary scoops out her file along with the files of other patients and sends them out to their respective owners. Listening to what Joel and Clementine had to say about each other after previously being together, heavily jeopardizes their newly budding relationship. After getting into a small fight, they decide to continue the relationship, not caring about the outcome.

The entire movie feels almost like a dream. The scenes where they depict his memories are dark and hazy with a lack of stylization giving it an almost documentary-like feel, the disappearance of characters is so subtle and underplayed that one would really have to pay attention to the details. [Source: The Atlantic] The story has managed to make us realize that memories – good or bad – make us who we are. They make our experiences which shape our reality and as humans, we need both – the good and the bad to grow. Relationships make us reflect on who we are and how we act on it is up to us.

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