Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Fifteen years on, Michel Gondry’s classic romance still speaks lớn the pain and pleasure of lost love.

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Valentine’s Day, 2004. A man named Joel heads out khổng lồ work—then, realizing that he’s miserable, changes his mind và goes khổng lồ Montauk. It’s freezing cold and snowing—it’s February in New York—but he decides khổng lồ walk the beach anyway so that he can write in his journal và mope in peace. “Sand is overrated,” he thinks at one point, idly picking at his wet surroundings. “It’s just tiny little rocks.”

On the beach, Joel sees a woman with blue hair, in an orange hoodie. He sees her again at a nearby diner, where he catches her spiking her coffee. He sees her again on the train platform headed back home—she playfully tries lớn get his attention—and again on the train itself, where she introduces herself as Clementine, defensively accosting him for not even knowing how to lớn make fun of her name, the way everyone else apparently has. “Why vị I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” Joel thinks. “I’m going khổng lồ marry you,” says Clementine, aloud. “I know it.”

They don’t get married, but they do date. Joel, played by Jim Carrey, & Clementine (Kate Winslet) are the clashing, depressed, impulsive personalities at the center of Michel Gondry’s beloved 2004 movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Only we don’t experience their relationship in real time, following the linear rise & fall of the typical movie romance, with its structurally predictable melodrama. Eternal Sunshine certainly has the rise and fall, & more than its nội dung of sincere, lovelorn melodrama. But per its by-now famous conceit, that story unfolds in retrospect, flashing up on-screen as it’s being erased from the lovers’ memories bit by bit.

It’s a surprising, clever sci-fi twist, even as the relationship drama it dredges up doesn’t feel at all lượt thích science fiction. A company named Lacuna Inc., staffed by the likes of Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst,Tom Wilkinson, takes the objects you associate with the person you want lớn forget—pictures, gifts, anything that’d stir up the pain of the relationship—and creates a map of the person in your mind. Then, memory by memory, Lacuna makes that person disappear from your past. Friends và neighbors get postcard notifications instructing them lớn never mention the ex-partner in your presence. And that’s that.

The movie, written by Charlie Kaufman (who won an Academy Award for his work in 2005), bears more than a superficial resemblance to Alain Resnais’s 1968 masterpiece Je T’aime, Je T’aime, in which a lover’s death spurs a man lớn attempt suicide. He survives, & because he clearly has no will khổng lồ live, he gets recruited for a dangerous scientific experiment in which he’s sent back in time one year, for a single minute. The experiment goes haywire; instead of reliving a single minute, he winds up reliving his entire fated romance, snippet by snippet, completely out of order, with no control over what’s happening.

Eternal Sunshine has more humor and a more legible romance than Resnais’s grimly nihilistic, harrowing classic, as well as tropes that speak to lớn the moment of its release. Clementine, played with unusual vibrancy by Winslet—who’d never get a role this quirky again—is very clearly a riff on the manic pixie dream-girl trope that haunted films of the aughts, though the term itself was not coined until 2007. But she’s also older than that archetype—both of the leads are. & her wild impulsiveness, a point of attraction for the usual dream girl, is here a bit more double-edged. It’s this zany unpredictability, after all, that led to lớn her deciding to lớn erase Joel from her memory without a proper breakup. Nowadays, we gọi this ghosting; somehow, in 2004, it was harder to lớn fathom.

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It’s Joel’s own constant depression, meanwhile, that pushes Clementine lớn such extremes. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t talk much because he thinks he’s got nothing going on—a sorta-funny sad sack whose creative energies seem stifled by the rigmarole of the everyday. A guy whose dissatisfaction seems incurable—a guy who’s a little unbearable, in other words. The film’s fascinating conjecture is that the manic pixie girl and indie anh hùng probably aren’t actually very well suited for each other—not because either one is a villain, but because of basic incompatibility. & yet they choose in the over to give their romance a shot anyway.

Joel has more control over his hallucinatory encounters with the past than the nhân vật of Resnais’s movie. The boundaries are more porous; he can hear the technicians in his apartment, played by Ruffalo, Woods, & Dunst, chatting and smoking weed & talking shit. He can interact with Clementine; he can feel his memories slip away as they happen. These are the moments that make Eternal Sunshine so indelible, even 15 years on. Most of the movie plays out like a spotlit labyrinth of banal events that suddenly become radical và strange as faces, gestures, & details gradually start to disappear. A oto falls from the sky; distinct events bleed into each other nonsensically. In Joel’s mind, Joel & Clementine being to lớn run ahead of the memories once Joel realizes he’d rather have them—keep the pain—than pretend Clementine never existed.

As heavy as Eternal Sunshine can get, it also never loses its puckish playfulness. Ruffalo và Dunst stoned in their underwear, jumping on Joel’s couch, remains one of the movie’s great joys; a scene back in Montauk, in which the memory of a house crumbles to bits with Joel and Clementine still in it, is still a harrowing, and fascinatingly literal, depiction of a mind being cracked open. Still, I suspect that we mostly remember the film for the serious questions it posits. The film is undeniably a fantasy. But the feelings that Eternal Sunshine evokes couldn’t feel more grounded in the real devastation of a lost love—or the blissful fatedness of a new one.

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