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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 romance/science fiction film that explores themes of love, attraction, and memory.

It is a Focus Features film written by Charlie Kaufman, taken from an idea given to Michel Gondry by Pierre Bismuth . Bismuth is a French performance artist who, according to Charlie Kaufman, mailed a note to his friends explaining that he'd had them erased from his memory, to see what their reactions would be. One of these friends was director Michel Gondry, who took the slip to Charlie and asked him to work out a story. The resulting screenplay was written by Kaufman and directed by Gondry.

Set largely in Rockville Centre and Montauk, Long Island, and in New York City, the film stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and includes supporting players Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson. It opened in the United States on March 19, 2004.

The movie's title is taken from a line from Alexander Pope's poem Eloisa to Abelard, spoken in the movie by Dunst's character:

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.

Awards and recognition

Kaufman, Gondry, and Bismuth won the 2005 Academy Award for best original screenplay for Eternal Sunshine. Winslet was also nominated for best actress but lost to Hilary Swank. It's listed on the Internet Movie Database Top 250, and is the highest ranked 2004 film on the user-selected chart. It was nominated for and has won various other awards, including:

  • Australian Film Institute: Best Foreign Film
  • BAFTA Film Awards: Best Editing (won), Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay (won), David Lean Award for Direction
  • Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Screenplay (won 2nd place)
  • Czech Lions : Best Foreign Language Film
  • César Award for Best Foreign Film
  • Golden Globes: Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor (Musical or Comedy), Best Actress (Musical or Comedy), Best Screenplay
  • Gotham Awards: Best Film
  • Grammy Awards: Best Score Soundtrack Album
  • London Critics Circle Film Awards: British Actress of the Year (won), Screenwriter of the Year (won)
  • National Board of Review : Best Original Screenplay (won)
  • Online Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actress (won), Best Director (won), Best Editing (won), Best Picture (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score
  • Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Actress
  • Seattle Film Critics Awards: Best Original Screenplay (won)
  • Toronto Film Critics Association Awards: Best Director (won), Best Screenplay (won)
  • Writers Guild of America: Best Original Screenplay (won)

Plot summary

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet for what they think is the first time on a Long Island Rail Road train from Montauk to Rockville Centre. They are unaccountably drawn to each other despite radically different personalities.

As it turns out, they were once lovers, but after two years their relationship was in a decline. Clementine decided to break up with Joel and hired a New York firm called Lacuna, Inc., to erase all memories of him from her brain. Joel was disconsolate upon finding out what she had done and decided to undergo the procedure himself. However, while having his memories erased, his subconscious rebelled, and Joel realized he wanted to hang on to his memories of her after all. A good portion of the film takes place in Joel's mind as he tries to figure out how to preserve some memory of his love for Clementine. We watch their love and courtship go in reverse, as the memories are slowly erased while they both try their best to resist the procedure and hide.

Toward the end of the film we realize that the meeting on the train takes place chronologically after Joel and Clementine had their memories erased of each other, and that it is in fact the second time they are meeting for the "first" time.

Music from the film

The soundtrack album for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released by Hollywood Records on March 16, 2004. It features the score, composed by Los Angeles musician Jon Brion, as well songs from artists E.L.O. ("Mr. Blue Sky"), The Polyphonic Spree ("Light & Day," "It's the Sun"), Beck (a cover of the Korgis' "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes"), The Willowz ("Something," "I Wonder"), and Don Nelson ("Some Kinda Shuffle," "Nola's Bounce").

Movie details

Linear chronology of events depicted in the film

Sometime during or before 2002, Lacuna's Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who is married, and receptionist Mary Svevo (Kirsten Dunst), who has developed a "crush" on him, have an affair. When it goes bad, Mary decides (or is convinced by Dr. Mierzwiak) to have her memory of their relationship erased. He does not undergo the procedure himself.

During 2002, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet at a beach party in Montauk, New York to which he has been invited by his friends Rob (David Cross) and Carrie (Jane Adams). Joel and Clem sneak into a beach house together, but he gets cold feet and leaves her there. This is the last memory of them together that we see being erased (concluding with him and his friends driving home after the party).

Sometime later, Joel approaches Clementine at the Barnes & Noble where she works and asks her out. (This is the scene in the film where all the books' covers and spines are erased and turn white.) She accepts, and they become a couple. At some point, they take a trip up to the frozen Charles River in Boston and lie on the ice together. (This is the scene in which Joel tells Clementine that he is "just happy." It must take place sometime in late 2002 or early 2003 because the weather is cold enough for the river to have frozen.) This is the first time they have ever been there together, although it is the second time in the course of the movie that the audience sees them there together.

Sometime in late 2003, Joel and Clementine's relationship begins to take a turn for the worse (in the movie, this is the scene in the Chinese restaurant, where they are the "dining dead").

Sometime in January or early February 2004, Joel and Clementine have a nasty fight at the flea market. They go home and eat Chinese takeout. She gets bored, goes out without him, and comes back at 3 a.m. very drunk and having damaged Joel's car. They have another nasty fight, she storms out, and this is the last time he sees her.

Soon after this, and before Valentine's Day, Clementine gets Joel erased from her memory by Lacuna. Patrick (Elijah Wood), one of Lacuna's technicians, falls for Clementine and uses the mementos of her relationship with Joel that she has surrendered to Lacuna to 'seduce' her.

Sometime closer to Valentine's Day, Joel goes to the bookstore, where she fails to recognize him, and he sees her kissing Patrick. He never actually sees Patrick's face, and instead simply notices her kissing someone, and thusly subsequent memories of this provide him merely with a faceless person.

Just before Valentine's Day, Joel arranges with Lacuna to get his memory erased of Clementine. The night of the procedure, February 13, Mary learns of her failed relationship with Dr. Mierzwiak.

The same night, Patrick and Clementine visit the frozen Charles, where Patrick tries and fails to reenact the magic of the night that Clementine describes in a love letter to Joel, which Patrick found in Joel's mementos of the relationship.

Valentine's Day 2004, Joel wakes up with his memory erased. He decides to skip work, takes the Long Island Rail Road out to Montauk and (re)meets Clementine there. They go back to her place, have a few drinks, and Joel leaves with her number, promising to call her. When he does, they make a date to go to the frozen Charles the next day (February 15), which they do. (This is the first time we see them on the ice together though it is at least the second time they are there chronologically.) Meanwhile, Mary has quit her job and starts mailing out the memory files and tapes that she stole from the office to Lacuna's clients (including Clementine and Joel).

The morning after their date on the Charles (i.e., February 16), Joel drives Clementine back to her house. She asks if she can come over to his place to sleep, and then goes inside to gather some toiletries. While she's inside, Patrick approaches Joel.

Clementine picks up her mail (which includes the file that Mary sent to her the morning of Valentine's Day) and Joel and Clementine drive off. They listen to the tape of her telling Dr. Mierzwiak about Joel prior to her erasure. They both get freaked out, and Joel makes Clementine get out of the car.

Clementine goes home, cries, and then drives herself to Joel's apartment. She finds him there listening to his tape about her, which he found in his mail upon getting home. She listens for a while, but is hurt by some of the things that he says about her on it and decides to leave. Joel follows her into the hallway and asks her to wait. Clementine does, but tells Joel that their relationship is bound to fail. Joel shrugs and says "Okay" in a tone which indicates that he accepts that it will likely fail, but still wants to experience it. Clementine feels the same way. Both of them begin to laugh over the absurdity of the situation and with relief that they aren't going to walk away from what may turn out to be a rewarding relationship.

Deleted and moved scenes

The shooting script--which has been published as a book (ISBN 1557046107)--and early drafts [1] contain a fair amount of material that was either left on the cutting room floor or never shot. A major change that came in editing was that the scene in the beginning with Joel and Clementine on the frozen Charles (the second time they'd been there chronologically) got moved from near the end of the movie to the beginning. (According to Charlie Kaufman, this was done to make sure the audience liked Clementine, as without it, their initial impression of her, based upon scenes from the end of Joel and Clem's first relationship, might have been too negative.) Dropped scenes included dialogue on the train, scenes with Joel and Naomi (the girlfriend he had before Clementine), Joel in the Lacuna office describing his negative feelings about Clementine in more detail, and scenes showing Joel and Clementine on their first "date" date. The dialogue from the deleted Lacuna office scene is used later, when he is listening to a tape of himself describing Clementine's personalty flaws, and some of the dialogue from their first "date" date is used in the last flashback scene, where the beachhouse is crumbling around the two of them.

Frames of reference

There were numerous frames of reference in Eternal Sunshine.

One was reality, shown in the group of scenes at the beginning and end of the movie that take place just before, on, and after Valentine's Day.

The rest of the scenes could be broadly classified as taking place in Joel's memory, but these can be subdivided into:

  1. Memories that Joel gets to relive as if they were really happening (e.g., the date on the frozen Charles).
  2. Memories in which Joel narrates in a voiceover (e.g., the "dining dead" meal).
  3. Memories which Joel watches take place and with which he can and does interact.
  4. Memories in which Joel is a participant but can "break character" and change the way the scene turns out.
  5. Memories in which Joel relives various moments of his childhood with Clementine in the place of one of the people in the memory.
  6. Memories that had been erased and lingered on in a degraded form (e.g., the faceless beings in the Lacuna offices).

Some events that actually took place during Joel's erasure (e.g., the technicians Stan [Mark Ruffalo] and Patrick's conversation about Patrick's stealing Clementine's panties) bleed through to memories Joel is reliving.

The end

Charlie Kaufman made it very clear in an interview that the story ended with the final scene of Joel and Clementine in the hallway, in which they had agreed to give their relationship one more try. He said it was up to individual members of the audience to decide what would have ultimately happened.

There is much debate as to what the triple-played scene of Joel and Clem playing in the snow right before the credits means. In at least one interview, Michel Gondry has said that he wanted the scene of them playing in the snow to loop throughout the credits. This desire apparently sprang from the initial intent that the movie end with the depressing revelation that Joel and Clementine spent the rest of their lives meeting, breaking up, and getting erased, only to meet again. However, Gondry said that this was not done, because it would ultimately detract from the credits.

Joel's childhood

The Clementine in Joel's memory suggests to his subconscious self that he somehow hide her in other memories in which she did not belong, the idea being that this would somehow enable Joel to remember her after the procedure was over. Joel therefore conjures up memories from his early childhood (the scenes in his mother's kitchen), and when this fails, she urges him to hide her "in his humiliation" (the scene in which his mother walks in on him masturbating to illustrated pornography and the scene where some bullies pressured him into hitting a dead bird with a hammer). This does cause problems with the memory-erasing procedure, and leads Dr. Mierzwiak to come over to Joel's apartment to help Stan, which leads to Mary's discovery of her past relationship with the doctor.

Mary Svevo

When we first see Mary, the movie shows in a variety of ways that while she is involved with Stan, she has a crush on Dr. Mierzwiak. Late in the movie on the night Joel's memories are erased, Mary makes her feelings known to the doctor, and they end up kissing. Mrs. Mierzwiak shows up and in the ugly scene that follows, Mary learns that she had had a relationship with Mierzwiak, and she let him erase her memory of it. Devastated, Mary goes to the Lacuna office and listens to her tape. (In an early version of the script, there is a bit of dialogue in which we learn that Mary had an abortion in the wake of the affair.) Mary clears out her desk, steals all Lacuna's files and tapes, and mails them to their clients, on the grounds that the procedure is morally wrong.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is available in the U.S. in separate anamorphic widescreen and full screen editions as of September 28, 2004. Both widescreen and full screen editions carry English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English DTS 5.1 Surround and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.

A special Collector's Edition DVD was released in the U.S. on January 4, 2005.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46