Film Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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.

–“Eloise to Abelard” by Alexander Pope

This film is fantastic. It is epic, tragic, romantic, fantastic, touching, and cathartic in many ways. It is a movie which must be experienced, and watched more than once.

I planned on re-watching this film for my film review series, but I decided to watch it after I recently saw Inception.

One of my favorite forms of storytelling is the non-chronological kind, because it forces the viewer to put things together in a different way, to put to story together without necessarily being spoon fed. It’s smart storytelling, the kind which trusts the viewer. There should be more films like this.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the film explores the essence of a relationship–the very heart of it. Moreover, it explores the thing that most people would like to do after a break-up: forgetting it. A cutting-edge procedure allows a person to remove memories associate with a specific person, because supposedly that should make the pain go away.

But will it?

Are we better for actually utterly forgetting everything about a relationship just because it went sour?

In addition, the film offers a view which caters to the romantic in me which posits that true love will find itself, no matter what. If “True love is your soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another,” then it does not matter whether or not you remember that person, for love will out.

This is one of the ways that memories are effectively represented. He remembers her, but not the details of everything around him. Look at the book spines, they’re all blank (except for the one she’s holding)

It’s much more complex than that, but I urge you to see this movie. There is some cursing, implied sex, but really it’s just intense. The film visually represents memory in a breathtaking way, things go blank, fall away, shift, fade, and dissolve. It’s exceptional.

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett give extraordinary performances, both very different from their normal roles, both to great effect. Their chemistry is palpable, and they convey both the good and bad of a relationship, both before and after. There’s even a great side story that makes the effect of the memory alterations even more acute.

I love this film, and it undoubtedly deserves a place on a list of modern classic movies.

I recommend watching Inception and (500) Days of Summer near to the time you watch this. They thematically go together, but are also similar in their methods of storytelling.

Favorite Quotes:

“Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.”

“He could wake up all half-baked and, gooey and, and half-baked… mmm, that sounds sooo good. I’m hungry.”

4-Year-Old Joel: “I really want her to pick me up. It’s amazing how strong that desire is…I love being bathed in the sink – such a feeling of security.”

“Random thoughts for Valentine’s day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”


3 thoughts on “Film Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

  1. Between Boy Detective’s love of this film and your recommendation, it’s clear that I need to get off the fence and just watch this movie.

    Good review.

    I watched (500) Days of Summer. The formatting didn’t bother me — I rather enjoyed it — nor did the ending, but I wasn’t over the moon about the film. Did you like it when you watched it?

  2. I really did enjoy (500) Days of Summer, because Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are excellent actors. I love non-chronological storytelling, but I really did enjoy the film–a lot. I thought that it was a more real depiction of a relationship than a lot of Hollywood’s efforts; they don’t always end well!
    I like its quirkiness, and the indie feel of it. I need to watch it again…

  3. This is my favorite film of all time. Truly. I think it is a perfect film that manages to capture the horrifying reality of love in a way that most of Hollywood does not. Of course it also helps that Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet turn in such a fine performance, definitely Jim’s best performance to date.

    Question to the Reader: Have you watched any of the special features/extras yet? If not, please return it to me before I forget you have it;-)

    Michel Gondry deserves a lot of the credit as well because his visual style is superb and the freedom he provides his actors is exquisite. Also, Charlie Kaufman deserves credit as well for grounding Michel in a script that is absolutely pitch-perfect.

    The film is rounded out by stellar performances by Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson. They each do a fantastic job.

    Now on to the other movies discussed.

    I watched (500) Days of Summer this weekend and truthfully, I didn’t care for the film. It actually felt like a really long episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, except without the lovable Colbie Smolders:-) Also, the story was written by dudes who were represented by JGL. The girl who inspired Summer was already out of his life and the break-up was bad. Real bad. I feel like that emotional baggage informed the film because I never liked Summer for one minute. She was not charming, she was not elusive. She was kind of a b from the minute we met her. The girl at the very end of the film was immediately likable in way that Summer never was. I think I understand what they were trying to go for with Summer but I just wasn’t feeling it. The best part of the whole movie was JGL musical moment (which again was very HIMYM)!

    JGL was charming and did what he could. At least all of his reactions seem very organic and come from an honest place. I was not impressed with Zooey Deschanel, and really I have never seen her appeal.

    The aesthetic of the film matched the indie vibe they were going for and in concept, there were some cute ideas. Pretending like Ikea was there home for example was adorable but I never believed Zooey. I guess I never bought into the relationship and so it was difficult for me to buy into the conceit of the film.

    But yeah for “Eternal Sunshine”:-)


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