Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - A Forrest Review
Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorite films. Not that I have a Top List, exactly, but it’s just got such phenomenal storytelling, characterization, cinematography, and the score and playlist… Ugh. So good. And it’s one of those films that just gets better every time I watch it.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a romance/sci-fi starring Jim Carrey (Joel) and Kate Winslet (Clementine). After learning that Clementine underwent a procedure to erase her memories of their relationship together—post painful breakup—Joel decides to have the same procedure done. We follow Joel as his memories are slowly erased…and we soon come to find that he regrets his decision as he chases after her in every memory. What a ride.
Both Carrey and Winslet’s performances are outstanding. Joel is the anxious, introverted artist hiding behind his notebook, and Clem is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that actually isn’t: ever-changing hair colors, outspoken, impulsive, quick to anger, and yet full of so much life and love to give as she tries to figure her own life out. She doesn’t exist for Joel, but for herself, and she’s not afraid to tell him that. In Joel’s memories, of course, we see the worst sides of her, as well as the romanticized sides.
I said before that this film gets better the more you watch it, and I have to say that you may not like this movie upon the first watch. It’s trippy, confusing, and nonlinear. Much like life, and the brain, and relationships: all of which this film is about.
Joel and Clem are not perfect people: perfect people don’t exist. They have bumps, scars, they bruise easily, say things they don’t mean… I’ll admit: Joel and Clementine aren’t exactly likable people. Joel clams up, bottles his emotions, romanticizes without looking at the reality. Clementine is impulsive, gets riled up in her own explosive emotions, has trouble reading the room. But there’s something about them that draws me in anyway. The realness, I guess. But it’s also that (and this is a debated opinion) despite everything, they keep choosing each other. Maybe to the detriment of themselves, maybe for the betterment. The end of the film is ambiguous, and we’ll never really know. For me, it seems hopeful.
Through Joel’s memories, we still don’t see the entirety of Clementine. It’s easy to write her off and think she’s too much. How much of his memories are tainted by his romanticism, or by irritation through prolonged failings of communication? How much of it is his fault? When we see them together, outside of his memories at the end of the film, she is not explosive. She is exhausted, confused, but she’s holding it together. She’s fully aware of her self-sabotaging behavior. It’s easier to see her as the kind and loving figure Joel pulls from his memories, and I can’t help but feel his romanticism and hope too.
Something I love to hold onto in the media I consume is atmosphere. ESotSM is full of atmosphere.
The film starts out with Joel waking up, going out to his car, and finding a dent. He writes a quick facetious “Thank you!” and sticks the note to the car next to him before heading to work. It’s snowing, and Joel’s got anxious feet as he waits for the train. Suddenly impulsive, an unusual trait for Joel, he skips out on work and rushes off to Montauk.
Jon Brion’s score pulls you in with a melancholy, yet somehow hopeful instrumental piece, violins singing in the background, and the snow is still falling as Joel walks on the beach of Montauk, wondering why he’s even there in the middle of February, thinking he should just get back with his ex, Naomi… “She was nice.” We see a girl in a bright orange jacket walking along the beach in the distance. They eye each other, but move on. All of this feels whimsical, pensive, exactly the sort of atmosphere I’m drawn to in dramas such as these.
No matter where Joel goes, he sees the woman again, closer and closer each time until she approaches him on the train back home. Now he has to actually talk to her.
She’s Clementine, of course, and while she comes off strong and maybe a little “crazy” (to which she apologizes for), he seems oddly fascinated by her. We later learn that they’ve reunited after their procedure, being this meeting, despite not remembering the other. Despite all of the pain, and the joy too, they’ve found each other again. For better or for worse.
There are many cerebral moments, and we follow other characters while Joel is getting his memory of Clem erased. A creepy, awkward Patrick (played by Elijah Wood) is there helping with the procedure, and we learn that he also helped to erase Clem’s memory of Joel. He’s become infatuated with her, so much so that he stole a pair of her underwear… Yikes. He has a ton of Clem’s stuff that she gave to the company to help erase her memories of Joel, and he uses them to entice her, as if embodying Joel from their past relationship will somehow make her like him (Big Yikes). And it works, at first, but the brain is a tricky thing, and if anything it makes her more confused and upset down the line as his use of these methods increase.
I just find it all very fascinating. Kaufman created a world in which one can forget all their troubles, which on the one hand could help prevent trauma, but on the other hand, permits you from learning the valuable lessons in every painful, human moment. Sometimes those lessons take lifetimes, and Kaufman’s film expresses the idea that forgetting may remove the memories, but the actions still find a way to play out again, somehow.
Even without a Forgetting Machine, in the real world, history still manages to repeat itself at some point, and some lessons are never learned. I hope we can collectively learn from our ancestors’ mistakes in the future, for both ourselves and for the world.
What did you like, or dislike about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? I’d love to see your comments below. Don’t forget to like and subscribe for future updates!