BP’s Top 100 Challenge #36: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I have a feeling that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is going to be a difficult movie to talk about but I’ll do my best. I remember going to see it in the theaters because the trailer looked compelling. It was the first Michel Gondry film I saw so I didn’t know what to expect. I think that was the best way to see this film, I went in with no expectations and was absolutely delighted.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is weird and chaotic and not linear, which wonderfully mirrors what memories are like. We remember things in certain ways and it is unreliable and disjointed, just like the film. There are moments when you think you are in the present but it is really the past or future. You also sometimes don’t realize a scene is a memory until it starts to crumble or fade. As the memories start to fade, people’s faces become blank the way it is when you try too hard to remember someone’s face.
I have to give Gondry a lot of credit that, for having such a non-linear structure, the film makes sense and all the pieces do fit together at the end. It is also a surprisingly optimistic film despite its subject matter. The film is ultimately very hopeful about love despite being about erasing people. I think we have all wished that we could erase a person or a memory from our minds but our memories are so important to who we are that even though they are painful they still have a lot to teach us. Joel realizes this too late and does his best to save Clementine in some way. It could have been very cheesy when they found each other again, in a Notebook kind of way, but because of the way the film is structured it avoids being cheesy and instead is really satisfying.
I also really like the side story between Mary and Dr. Mierzwiak. The reveal that he had erased her memory after they had an affair and she started her crush all over again works perfectly with the structure of the film. In fact, I really liked all the side characters from Dr. Mierzwiak’s office. Mark Ruffalo plays the technician Stan who is clearly smitten with Mary but she only has eyes for the doctor. And Elijah Wood is great as the creepy stalker Stan. He is so doe-eyed and innocent looking but in reality, he is stealing Clementine’s underwear and using Joel’s journal to seduce her. While the whole practice of stealing memories is creepy Stan feels like the creepiest character.
In 2004, we had seen Jim Carrey play a few serious roles but never one as dower as Joel at the start of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Joel does smile and have fun at times but I think was the most dramatic role I had seen him do up to that point. For someone who had built his career around having an elastic face and solid comic timing, it was great to see him take on a role like this. Additionally, I think Kate Winslet was perfectly cast as the eccentric but delightful Clementine. Winslet shows how Clementine can be fun and flirty and very attractive but also shows her ugly, damaged side. A lesser actor giving a weak performance as Clementine would have ruined the balance the film so desperately needs where you see why the relationship ended but you also root for them because you see what a good match they really are. As someone who is a little more of a Joel than a Clementine, I know it is good to have people around who challenge you and they are really a good pair who fortunately get a second chance.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ranking: Carrier