Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Film Review

Director: Michel Gondry

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Wilkinson

Rating: ★★★★

Charlie Kaufman was already a well-respected screenwriter by the time Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released back in 2004. He’d already written Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, 2 films that received Oscar nominations for their screenplays (He would then win best original screenplay at the 2004 Oscars for Eternal Sunshine). It’s easy to imagine that there must have been a high expectation on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when it was originally released.

Directed by Michel Gondry (Human Nature, Be Kind Rewind) Eternal Sunshine is a magical and heart-breaking exploration into a dead relationship, the idea that certain people are fated to meet and the way relationships evolve. It follows Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey (The Mask, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber) who has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Clementine, played by Kate Winslet (Heavenly Creatures, Titanic). After finding out that Clementine has had her memories of him erased, Joel decides to have the same procedure completed on himself.

The narrative then shows their relationship in reverse, from its worse moment and break up, through the lows and highs until their eventual meeting. Half-way through Joel changes his mind and tried to stop it. It’s a bittersweet story. At first you won’t feel for the couple, not really knowing them and just seeing the ends of their relationship, but as you get to know them, and as Joel rediscover’s the good memories, you’ll want him to succeed in stopping them from being deleted.

Carrey is mostly known for his silly and over the top comedy performances and apart from one scene, where he is re-living a childhood memory, none of that is on show here. He is subtle, nuanced and gives a really strong performance as the heart broken Joel. His downbeat delivery is engaging from the opening voice over right through to the end. He is brilliant in this film and over the years has received a lot of praise for this, comparing the role with his earlier dramatic breakthrough performance in The Truman Show. Kate Winslet is also exceptional, playing the eccentric and troubled Clementine. She is the heart of the film, and Clementine is a character with so much personality weighed down by the stresses of life, you can’t help but care. Both together are magnetic; their chemistry is great and evident from their first scene together.

On top of this, you have a sub-plot revolving around Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man), Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings), Mark Ruffalo (Who would later find massive fame as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the MCU) and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom). All their characters work at the clinic which is removing Joel’s memories. Most of the narrative takes place in Joel’s head while his memories are being deleted. He is asleep in his bed, while Stan and Patrick (Ruffalo and Wood) complete the procedure. It’s a stark contrast to the bittersweet main plot and works well along side it. Elijah Wood plays one of the creepiest characters imaginable, using Joel’s memories to date Clementine. His behaviour is never punished exactly, but it is horrible to watch, especially with the lack of care from Ruffalo.

The film is told in a very abstract way. Not only is most of the story told in Joel’s mind, with his memories literally dissolving around him, it is also told in a non-linear way, starting at the end of their relationship and working backwards. The dream world around him that store his memories changes from shot to shot, subtly at times and loudly at others. It’s beautifully created, and the effects look great. There are some sequences where faces are distorted that are more unsettling than some horror films. The film looks great and is beautiful to watch. The whole thing is also complimented by a beautiful soundtrack composed by Jon Brion. It all blends together seamlessly to grab your attention and not let it go.  

If you’ve only found Kaufman through his more recent Netflix film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things and been put off by the pretentious mess that it is, don’t worry. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is nothing like that. It’s a really great romantic drama film. It’s heart breaking to watch and has some of the best performances from all of the actors involved. The film flies by and doesn’t drag or slow down for a minute. This is something that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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6 Responses to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Film Review

  1. R13 says:

    I read several of your movie reviews. Of course, everyone has a difference of opinion, so that’s fine. I can’t exactly agree with some of the things you said in several reviews, but I can definitely say that you undeniably explain them well. I commented here because I’m a big fan of Charlie Kaufman. I still enjoyed reading the posts, including this one. Just felt compelled to share that for some reason. Anyway, keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading them. I think it’s good that we all have differing opinions, and I’m really happy that my views have come across well. That’s all I can hope for.

      I haven’t seen a lot of Kaufman’s work. I couldn’t tell you why. I’m working to change that as he is clearly a very imaginative and original writer. I also have a feeling that he’s a writer I will like more on repeat viewings. Eternal Sunshine was a film that just clicked straight away.

      Liked by 1 person

      • R13 says:

        Repeat viewings? Definitely. I initially didn’t like I’m Thinking of Ending Things until I watched it twice. Same thing with his other works like Synecdoche, New York.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting. I might have to re-watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I really enjoyed the book, but didn’t think the film was a good adaptation. I remember really enjoying the first half, but the latter half was too much. I haven’t watched Synecdoche, New York yet. I have a subscription with a rental place and it’s on the list, so I’ll get round to it eventually. I’ll keep in mind that it make take 2 viewings

        Liked by 1 person

      • R13 says:

        The writer actually produced the movie. Apparently, a different ending that was very open to interpretation was made which didn’t seem as thriller-based as the book.


  2. R13 says:

    On a side note, I actually enjoyed Eternal Sunshine more when I rewatched it. There were more things to appreciate on a repeat viewing.

    Liked by 1 person

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