Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Directed by: Michel Gondry
Genre: Drama / Romance / Science-Fiction
Released: March 19 2004 by Focus Features
Running time: 108 mins (1 hr, 48 mins)
Rated: R (USA) 15 (UK)

Viewed at: Home / Netflix
Rating: ★★★★★+

IMDb | View Trailer

Joel is stunned to discover that his girlfriend Clementine has had her memories of their tumultuous relationship erased. Out of desperation, he contracts the inventor of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwaik, to have Clementine removed from his own memory. But as Joel’s memories progressively disappear, he begins to rediscover their earlier passion. From deep within the recesses of his brain, Joel attempts to escape the procedure. As Dr. Mierzwiak and his crew chase him through the maze of his memories, it’s clear that Joel just can’t get her out of his head.

For a long time, I’d been a big fan of Michel Gondry’s music videos, but I’d only ever seen one of his films, which was Be Kind Rewind (which is a pretty good film, I’d definitely recommend it). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had been recommended to me hundreds of times, but I’d never gotten around to watching it and it just sat in my Netflix queue for months. After a particularly disastrous cinema trip (screen wasn’t working), I was looking around for something a bit light to watch and decided to stream this film at long last. Maybe all of that waiting was worth it, because this has now become an instant favourite of mine.
ESotSM is the story of downtrodden Joel (played by Jim Carrey), who finds out that his former girlfriend Clementine (played by Kate Winslet), has had him erased from her memory after their break up. In an attempt to move on from her, Joel goes through the same memory wiping process, and their relationship plays out in reverse. The film’s plot is the main reason as to why I liked it so much: I love the way that the events unfold backwards, and also how the story begins and ends in around about the same place. It’s a little bit more complex than the ordinary linear storyline, as there is a steady back-and-forth going on that really doesn’t get very confusing at all. By back-and-forth I mean that we go into Joel’s memories that are being erased by his technicians in his apartment, who we also see have a story too, but I’ll get on to that in a bit. The thing I loved the most about how Joel’s memories are told backwards is that we get to see how his relationship with Clem started and I went from thinking ‘wow no wonder they broke up’, to actually liking how sweet their relationship was in the first place.
Sometimes I’m a little wary of films with ensemble casts because I’ve seen a lot of films where some members of the cast get pushed into the background while the others get the spotlight (looking at you, reboot Star Trek series). I did initially have that fear, but thankfully every single cast member gets a fair amount of time in the film, and the characters that initially seem like bit players actually do have deeper stories than just being there to erase Joel’s memories. In most films there’s that one character that you’re not supposed to like, and here that character is Patrick, who is played by Elijah Wood. Wood’s character is definitely one that made my skin crawl more and more every time something was revealed about him. I’ll not say why because of spoilers, but I really got to give it to Elijah Wood for managing to make me creeped out by a character played by him. The rest of the ensemble cast – Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson – also give great performances as their characters also have a story that I can’t mention too much because of spoilers, but the way that their characters go from just being peripheral characters to having stories and emotions of their own is one of my favourite things about ESotSM.
The one actor in the whole film that I had my doubts about is Jim Carrey, and now I feel a bit silly for doubting him so much. Carrey has always been one of my favourite comics, but before ESotSM, I’d never seen him in any dramas so I really didn’t know what to expect of him. Once the film got into full swing, my doubts were completely pushed aside because Carrey gives a great performance as Joel, and shows how versatile he really can be. He has a few moments where he uses his comedic skills, but his dramatic performance outshines those moments. On the surface, Joel is a pretty boring character who I normally wouldn’t give too much thought to (he’s just set up for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl), but Carrey realy managed to give him more of a character other than being that guy who can’t stop pining over his ex-girlfriend who obviously doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore. And also throws Beck tapes out of the window (not cool).
My favourite character in ESotSM is definitely Clem, because she completely smashed my expectations of her. I totally expected her to be a regular Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she not only acknowledges that trope, she totally rejects it and I just love her for that. She’s not in Joel’s life to complete him, or change his life in any way, she’s with Joel because she likes him and she’d much rather change her own life than anybody else’s. Kate Winslet is an actress that I used to keep my distance from because I absolutely hate Titanic more than any other film, so her performance in ESotSM has totally changed my opinion of her and made Clementine one of my favourite film characters from now on (I also wish I had to courage to dye my hair like hers).
This is the part where I might go a little mad, because this is why I love Gondry’s music videos: the cinematography. In terms of camera work, I really love how there are two styles that have been used: in the non-memory scenes, the camera work is pretty standard stuff which is kind of to be expected, but in the memories, there’s a dreamish atmosphere that gets fuzzier and fuzzier as the memories are being erased. And in some memories, the erasing is more catastrophic, with it literally falling apart. Another stand-out thing to me are the special effects, which is a mixture of traditional effects (using different perspectives) and also computer effects. In some scenes, people’s faces become warped or blurred as Joel’s memories are being erased, which is really cool to see, but I found myself being more impressed by the traditional effects that are used, for example in the scenes of Joel’s childhood memory of hiding under the table crying. The way that the effects make Jim Carrey look tiny and Kate Winslet look a lot bigger than him is really interesting because there’s no special effects used. This is the same for scenes were Joel can see himself getting the procedure done, as Jim Carrey simply changed his clothes and ran into each shot. I love me some special effects, but sometimes I find myself being more impressed by the tricks that directors can do with cameras.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is easily one of the best films that I have seen this year. Why I just left it in my Netflix queue for so long, I have literally no idea. Jim Carrey was already one of my favourite comics, but from this film I’ve gained a whole new respect for him as an actor because I had no idea that he had the ability to perform these kinds of roles (sorry, Jim). This film has instantly become a new favourite for me, and I’ll definitely be watching this again and watching more of Michel Gondry’s work.

1 Comment

  1. 25/09/2014 / 12:06 AM

    This movie definitely deserves the golden UFO! One of the best sci-fi films of all time. Love reading your views and being reminded why this is such a great film.

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