Recommended Viewing Situation:
When you’re too scared to dye your hair a bright colour and you need a talking point that makes you seem like you have a personality.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Format: 35 mm Film: Fuji Reala 500D 8592.
Director: Michel Gondry.
Writers: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth.
Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras.
Awards: Oscars for Best Writing and Original screenplay, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth; BAFTAs for Best Original Screenplay, Charlie Kaufman, and Best Editing, Valdís Óskarsdóttir; AFI Awards Movie of the Year, among others.
Often narratives merely reflect the visual and not the visceral; rarely does a writer convey the experience of living inside a body – or a mind. Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, 2000) is one writer who manages to articulate how messy and confusing the human condition is. Much the same as Modernist writers, such as Virginia Woolf, Kaufman disregards traditional narrative style because it doesn’t reflect reality – reality isn’t linear because we live in our memories at the same time as we experience the present. We invent, we fantasise, we get distracted, and our brains and bodies do things we don’t expect and can’t control. While Being John Malkovich focuses on one individual’s life – John Malkovich’s – and what it would be like if others could dip in and out of that individual experience, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) explores the universal nightmare of living through loss. The cinematography, lighting, music and the performances of the actors combine to create a piece of art which evokes beautifully the heightened anxiety, confusion of thought and emotional whiplash which accompany the end of a relationship.
Much of the pain we feel after a relationship has ended comes from our urge to replay in our mind all the things we did wrong, to wonder what we could have done differently, instead of focusing on the present. But what if we could rewind and start afresh? Would we want to? Would we be doomed to make the same mistakes and live through the same unhappiness? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows Joel Barish’s (Jim Carey) life as he comes to terms with his break-up from his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) and the bizarre events that follow. When speaking to friends about an encounter with Clementine in which she acts as though she has never seen him before, Joel learns that she has undergone a procedure offered by a company called Lacuna Inc. in which all her memories pertaining to Joel have been erased. Shaken and despairing, Joel opts to have the same procedure performed. This involves, in part, handing over to Lacuna any objects which connect him to her. Once the procedure has started, however, Joel becomes increasingly reluctant to let Clementine go. For much of the film, Joel is unconscious and struggling to find a way to retain some reminder of her, while his subconscious picks up on hints of what is happening around his physical body – for instance, learning that a Lacuna Inc. employee, Patrick (Elijah Wood) has used items which Joel handed into the company to mimic aspects of his personality, with the aim of seducing Clementine. The horror of Patrick’s emotional manipulation of Clementine is one of many layers of scrutiny of the emotional trauma in relationships which features in the story – in fact, if you’re single, Eternal Sunshine will make you feel intense relief that you are so.
For me at least, Clementine is unforgettable; this is thanks, in part, to a speech she gives more than once in the film (she has obviously given it before). ‘Some guys think I’m a concept,’ she tells Joel, and goes on to pronounce her autonomy in a glorious attack on the trope of the ‘manic pixie dream girl.’ Eternal Sunshine is the fucking realest magic realism you’ll ever see.