Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

By Ani Thurman

Good: 4/5

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is a romance with an inconsistent timeline. It’s a love story told in reverse, meant to conceal information from the audience. I find this technique incredibly interesting. The experience of discovering new details with every watch will continue to amuse me. (Spoilers Ahead)

We open with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), a pessimistic introvert whose shyness can only be described as relatable. While performing his everyday morning routine, he has an overwhelming impulse to skip work and catch a train to Montauk, Long Island. This is clearly abnormal for predictable Joel Barish, for he himself shows uncertainty towards his decision. Aimlessly strolling across a Montauk beach, he spots a blue haired beauty named Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), an overbearing extrovert who later urges him to refrain from making any jokes regarding her name. Taking her playful remark seriously, he responds with “I don’t know any jokes about your name.”

Their naturally differing personalities seem to balance one another out. Clementine’s spontaneous nature keeps Joel on edge, but provides a freedom he’s too anxious to achieve on his own. He falls hopelessly in love with her. Soon we cut to a disastrous stage of the couple’s relationship. When confronting Clementine, she acts as if she doesn’t know him.

Joel later learns she underwent a procedure to wipe her brain of any memory of their relationship. Devastated, he undergoes the same procedure. Performed by a small experimental firm, safety doesn’t appear to be the number one priority. When he asks if there is any risk of brain damage, Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), admits that technically speaking, the operation is brain damage.

Dr. Mierzwiak’s assistants, Stan and Patrick, played by Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood, set up for an overnight session at Joel’s apartment. Joel is put under a trance like sleep while the technicians work their magic. Directed into Joel’s mind, we’re observing his memories of Clementine starting from most recent, being the most catastrophic. As we witness their relationship disappear, he has a revelation. This is no longer what he wants; he just wishes to wake up.

Reliving earlier days, he begins to fall in love with her all over again. This chunk of the film is spent attempting to outrun the mind erasing process, and save what pieces he still has left of his ex-girlfriend. He desperately tries to find a way to reserve her each time he’s thrown into a new memory. Eventually, he starts to hide Clementine in memories she would never make an appearance in, such as his childhood ones. His plan looked as though it was prevailing.

Stan was forced to call Dr. Mierzwiak due to Joel’s mind being “off the map” caused by his resisting. Yet, the technology would at some point find the two, and Clementine would continue to be erased. In the couple’s last memory, that of which they met at a beach, both know the end is near. Before disappearing permanently, Clementine leans in and whispers “Meet me in Montauk.” When Joel awakes, the technicians are gone and the job is done.

Overall, having a spotless mind doesn’t bring eternal sunshine. The memories that he persistently clings onto represents that sunshine, to when life felt perfect. I suppose you can erase a memory, but you can’t do away with the feeling it invoked. Some viewers might find the timeline confusing, or the R-rated content offensive, but I personally really enjoyed the movie.

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