Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A man and a woman lying on a sheet of ice, there is a large crack in the ice beside them.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichel Gondry
Produced by
Screenplay byCharlie Kaufman
Story by
Starring
Music byJon Brion
CinematographyEllen Kuras
Edited byValdís Óskarsdóttir
Production
company
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • March 19, 2004 (2004-03-19)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$20 million[1]
Box office$72.3 million[1]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American science fiction romantic comedy film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry. It follows an estranged couple who have erased each other from their memories, then, started dating again. Pierre Bismuth created the story with Kaufman and Gondry. The ensemble cast includes Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson. The title of the film is a quotation from the 1717 poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope.

The film uses elements of the psychological thriller and a nonlinear narrative to explore the nature of memory and romantic love.[2] It opened in North America to wide acclaim on March 19, 2004, and grossed over $70 million worldwide. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Winslet received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress. The film developed a cult following in the years after its release and many critics now regard it as one of the greatest films of all time.[3]

Plot[edit]

Train station of Montauk where Joel and Clementine meet each other again after erasing of their memories.

Shy, soft-spoken Joel Barish and unrestrained free spirit Clementine Kruczynski begin a relationship on a Long Island Rail Road train from Montauk to Rockville Centre. Joel and Clementine almost immediately connect, feeling drawn to each other despite their contrasting personalities, and both had felt the need to travel to Montauk that day. Although they do not realize it, they are former lovers, now separated after having dated for two years.

After a fight a few days earlier, Clementine hires the New York City firm Lacuna, Inc. to erase all of her memories of their relationship. Upon discovering this from his friends Rob and Carrie, Joel is saddened and decides to undergo the procedure himself, a process that takes place while he sleeps.

Much of the film subsequently takes place in Joel's mind, during this memory erasure procedure. Joel finds himself revisiting his memories of Clementine in reverse, starting from the disintegration of their relationship. As he comes across happier, positive memories of Clementine early in his relationship, he decides to preserve at least some memory of her and his love for her, trying to evade the procedure by taking his idealized memory of Clementine into memories not linked to her or waking up to stop the process. Despite his efforts, the technicians steadily erase his memories. He comes to the last remaining memory of Clementine, the day he had first met her at a beach house in Montauk. As this memory disintegrates around them, she tells him, "Meet me in Montauk."

The film features separate, but related, story arcs revolving around the employees of Lacuna during Joel's memory erasure. Patrick, one of the Lacuna technicians performing the erasure, uses Joel's memories and mannerisms to seduce and romance Clementine. Mary, the Lacuna receptionist, is dating the other memory-erasing technician, Stan, but has feelings for Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, a married doctor and the head of Lacuna. During Joel's memory wipe, Mary discovers she had previously had an affair with Dr. Mierzwiak and agreed to have this erased from her memory when Dr. Mierzwiak's wife found out. On learning this, she asks Stan whether he knew about this, to which he claims that he did not. Mary then quits her job and steals the company's records, mailing them to all of Lacuna's customers.

The film returns to the present after Joel and Clementine have met at the train station of Montauk. They both come upon their Lacuna records later that day, and react with shock and bewilderment – they have no clear memory of having known each other, let alone having had a relationship and having had their memories erased. Joel pleads with Clementine to restart their relationship; Clementine initially resists, pointing out it could go the same way. Joel accepts this, and they decide to try anyway.

Cast[edit]

Top to bottom: Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski respectively
  • Jim Carrey as Joel Barish: An introvert who enters a two-year relationship with Clementine Kruczynski. After their relationship ends, Clementine erases Joel from her memory, and he erases her from his mind in response. Charlie Kaufman wrote Joel with autobiographical personality traits.[4] Producers cast Carrey against type for his role as Joel,[4] selecting him for his regular appearance, as well as his comedic ability. According to Gondry, this was as "It's hard to be funny. It's far easier to take someone really funny and bring them down than do the opposite."[5] To make Carrey, an actor who typically portrayed high-energy roles, play a restrained character, Gondry prevented him from improvising, a restriction he did not place on the other members of the cast. Carrey did not like this.[6] Gondry would also put Carrey off balance by giving wrong orders or by rolling the camera at the wrong time. Gondry believed this would make Carrey forget what he should do to be Joel, allowing him to go in character.[4] In the 2017 Netflix documentary Jim & Andy, Carrey mentions a conversation with Gondry one year before shooting began for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, shortly after Carrey had a breakup with an unspecified woman.[7] Gondry saw that Carrey's emotional state at the time was "so beautiful, so broken" and asked him to stay that way for one year to fit the character. In the documentary, Carrey commented, "That's how fucked up this business is."[8][9] Nicolas Cage was Gondry's original choice to play Joel,[6] but Cage was unable to do the role as he was in high demand from independent directors after his performance in Leaving Las Vegas.[5]
  • Ryan Whitney as young Joel
  • Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski: A spontaneous extrovert who, after breaking up with him after a two-year relationship, erases Joel Barish from her mind. Producers cast Winslet against type for her part as Clementine,[4] as Winslet had previously featured heavily in period pieces.[10] She received the role after she was the only actress to offer criticism on the script instead of pandering to the writers.[5] After another actor won an Oscar, the studio attempted to make Gondry use her instead of Winslet for the role of Clementine, but Gondry threatened to walk from the project if that occurred.[5] During filming, Gondry took Winslet to separate rooms to coach her,[5] and she wore wigs instead of dying her hair.[10] Some commentators note how Clementine's character criticizes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stock character several years before film critic Nathan Rubin coined the phrase. Most commentators discuss one particular example to demonstrate this criticism, wherein Clementine warns Joel she is flawed: "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours."[11][12] With her impulsiveness, emotional intensity (extreme mood changes), alcohol dependence, turbulent relationships, reckless behavior, and hasty idealization/devaluation of Joel, Clementine seems to exhibit traits of borderline personality disorder, although it is not clear whether Kaufman wrote her character with this specific diagnosis in mind.[13]
  • Lola Daehler as young Clementine
  • Kirsten Dunst as Mary Svevo: The receptionist for Lacuna who, while dating Stan Fink, has a crush on Howard Mierzwiak. While erasing Joel's memory, Howard's wife catches her kissing Howard. Howard's wife reveals Mary previously had a relationship with Howard, which Howard erased from her mind. She reacts to this information by quitting her job and mailing Lacuna's company records to its customers. In the script, Mary and Howard's relationship resulted in an unplanned pregnancy, leading to Howard pressuring Mary into an abortion, which Howard also erased from her memory.[14]
  • Mark Ruffalo as Stan Fink: A technician for Lacuna who is in a relationship with Mary Svevo until the reveal of her previous relationship with Howard Mierzwiak. Ruffalo received the role of Stan after providing an "unexpected take on the role" to Gondry when he suggested Stan be a fan of The Clash and look like Joe Strummer.[5]
  • Elijah Wood as Patrick: Patrick is a technician for Lacuna who enters a relationship with Clementine by imitating Joel. They break up when Joel and Clementine begin dating for the second time.
  • Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Howard Mierzwiak: Howard runs Lacuna. Before the film's events, he had an affair with Mary, which ended with the relationship's erasure from her mind. Wilkinson reportedly did not enjoy the shooting of the film and frequently disagreed with Gondry.[5][15]
  • Jane Adams as Carrie Eakin: Joel Barish's friend. She is in a troubled relationship with Rob Eakin.
  • David Cross as Rob Eakin: Joel Barish's friend. In a troubled relationship with Carrie Eakin.
  • Deirdre O'Connell as Hollis Mierzwiak: Howard Mierzwiak's wife
  • Thomas Jay Ryan as Frank: Joel Barish's neighbor
  • Debbon Ayer as Joel Barish's mother

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

The concept of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came from 1998 conversations between Michel Gondry and the film's co-writer, Pierre Bismuth.[16] The pair had met and become friends in the early 1980s during Gondry's drumming career in the French pop group Oui Oui.[17] Bismuth had conceived of the idea of erasing certain people from people's minds in response to a friend complaining about her boyfriend; when he asked her if she would erase that boyfriend from her memory, she said yes.[17][18] Bismuth originally was going to conduct an art experiment involving sending cards to people saying someone they knew had erased the card's recipient from their memory.[19] When he mentioned this to Gondry, they developed it into a story based on the situations that would arise if it were scientifically possible.[17][19] Bismuth never carried out his experiment idea.[19]

Gondry approached Charlie Kaufman with this concept, the two having worked previously together for Kaufman's Human Nature.[18][19] Gondry and Kaufman together further developed the story into a short pitch.[20] While the writers did not believe the concept to be marketable, a small bidding war began over the idea.[16][20][21] Steve Golin of Propaganda Films purchased it on June 12, 1998, for a low seven-figure sum.[4][22] Kaufman, who was responsible for writing the screenplay, did not begin immediately, instead opting to suspend writing while he was working on Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Human Nature.[16] During this time, filmmaker Christopher Nolan released his film Memento, which similarly deals with memory. Due to the similarities, Kaufman became worried and tried to pull out of the project, but Golin made him complete it.[4] During writing, the pitch's ownership changed several times thus Kaufman did not have to deal with the studios until the end of the scriptwriting process.[16] The final script made the studios nervous.[16]

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot?
The world forgetting, by the world forgot:
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned;

Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard, 207-10

Kaufman did not want to make the film a thriller and wanted to downplay the science fiction aspects of memory erasure, focusing on the relationship.[16][19][21] He had an "enormous struggle" with the script, particularly encountering two problems while writing the script: showing "the memories, Joel's reactions to the memories, and Joel interacting with Clementine outside of the memories in the memories," and the fact that characters could refer in later scenes to already erased memories.[16] Kaufman resolved the first problem by making Joel lucid and able to comment on his memories and solved the second by making the memories degrade instead of immediately erasing, with complete erasure occurring at awakening.[16] Kaufman's original name for the screenplay was 18 words long, as he had wanted a title that "you couldn't possibly fit on a marquee,"[23] however, he eventually decided on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a title originating from the 1717 poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope.[24]

Filming and post-production[edit]

The shooting of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind began in mid-January 2003 after six weeks of preparation,[25][26][27] lasting for three months on a budget of $20 million mostly in and around New York City.[6][27] The production crew, however, recreated some key scenes, such as Joel's Yonkers apartment and the 1950s-style kitchen, in a New Jersey former U.S. Navy base.[27] The shoot was difficult, sometimes shooting for seventeen hours per day in harsh environments.[28]

The shoot was challenging for cinematographer Ellen Kuras, due to the difficulty of filming Gondry's vision for the film, which aimed to "blend location-shoot authenticity with unpredictable flashes of whimsy." According to this vision, Gondry wanted available light used exclusively for the shoot. Kuras disagreed with this choice and would get around it by lighting the room instead of the actors and by hiding light bulbs around the set to increase light levels.[27] Another issue the cinematographers encountered was due to the frequent improvisation, the lack of marks and the few rehearsals completed, the cinematographers often did not know where the actors would be. Two handheld cameras filmed near 360-degree footage at all times, shooting 36 000 feet of film a day to deal with this.[15][27] Gondry called back to the work of famed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard by filming using wheelchairs as well as using sled and chariot dollies instead of traditional dollies. When using wheelchairs, the shot was not consistently smooth, however as Kuras liked the aesthetic of the low-angle, wobbly movement, the final film contains the footage.[27]

The film used minimal CGI, with many effects accomplished in-camera, through forced perspectives, hidden space, spotlighting, unsynchronized sound, split focus and continuity editing.[19] A notable example is the ocean washing away the house in Montauk; the production team accomplished this by building the corner of a house on the beach and allowing the tide to rise.[6] Executing this effect was difficult as the special team hired to place the set in the water refused due to perceived dangers. Gondry in response fired the team and had the production team, including the actors and producers, place the set in the water. In retaliation for Gondry's actions, the chief of the union reprimanded Gondry in front of the crew.[29]

Kaufman rewrote some of the script during production; thus, several discrepancies exist between the production script and the final film.[20] A fundamental difference is that in the production script, with the erasure of each memory, Clementine's behavior is increasingly robotic.[16] In the final film, Winslet plays Clementine straight, and degradation of settings and the intrusion of settings upon each other establish memory degradation visually. Another script component that did not make it into the final film was the appearance of Naomi, Joel's girlfriend. Against Kaufman's insistence on Naomi's inclusion, the production team cut her already filmed scenes.[16]

Icelandic editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir edited the film, and she reportedly conflicted with Gondry during editing.[30] Charlie Kaufman was also very involved in the editing of the film. Editing was a long process as there was no requirement to rush it.[4][20] There were a few test screenings of the film, which elicited positive reactions.[20]

Music[edit]

The soundtrack album for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was composed by Los Angeles musician Jon Brion, also featuring songs from artists including The Polyphonic Spree, The Willowz, and Don Nelson. Hollywood Records released the soundtrack on March 16, 2004.[31] A cover version of The Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" with instrumentation by Brion and vocals by Beck operates as the soundtrack's centerpiece, setting the film's tone in the opening credits, and closing the film.[31][32]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's soundtrack received generally positive reviews. AllMusic described it as "nearly as deft", and described Brion's score as "intimate" and "evocative of love and memories".[33] Other positive reviews noted the ambient nature of the music and lauded Beck's cover of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime."[34] On the other hand, the soundtrack's detractors criticized the album's lack of identity and its depressive atmosphere.[35] Even among the detractors, however, the score's ability to mesh with the plot was lauded, an appraisal common to many reviews.[33][34][35][36]

Analysis[edit]

In the autumn 2008 issue of Screen Journal, Carol Vernallis argued that Gondry's experience in directing music videos contributed to the film's mise-en-scène and sound design. Vernallis describes some threads of the visual, aural and musical motifs throughout the film, and how some motifs can work in counterpoint.[37]

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

Produced on a budget of $20 million, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opened on March 19, 2004, in the United States, earning $8,175,198 in its opening weekend in 1,353 theaters. The film placed seventh in the weekend's box office, and remained in theaters for 19 weeks, earning $34,400,301 in the United States and $37,857,825 in international markets for a total of $72,258,126 worldwide.[38] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, as of June 2018, Kaufman's most profitable and Gondry's second most profitable film.[39][40]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 238 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Propelled by Charlie Kaufman's smart, imaginative script and Michel Gondry's equally daring directorial touch, Eternal Sunshine is a twisty yet heartfelt look at relationships and heartache."[41] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 89 out of 100, based on 41 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[42] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.[43]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times in his initial 2004 review gave the film 3½ out of a possible 4.[44] He revisited the film in 2010 when he referred to Kaufman as "the most gifted screenwriter of the 2000s" and revised the rating to a full four stars, adding it to his "Great Movies" list.[45] A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised the film for being "cerebral, formally and conceptually complicated, dense with literary allusions and as unabashedly romantic as any movie you'll ever see".[46] Time Out summed up their review by saying, "the formidable Gondry/Kaufman/Carrey axis works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one's own addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart."[47]

Winslet and Carrey received acclaim for their performances. Winslet's performance as Clementine received acclaim and multiple award nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress,[48] and Premiere magazine placed it 81st in their 2008 list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.[49] Claudia Puig in a review for USA Today said of her performance "Winslet is wonderful as a free spirit whose hair color changes along with her moods. She hasn't had such a meaty role in a while, and she plays it just right,"[50] while Ann Hornaday in a review for The Washington Post said "Even when forced to wear costumes and wigs that make her look like Pippi Longstocking after an acid-fueled trip to the thrift market, Winslet maintains a reassuring equilibrium. It takes an actor of her steadiness to play someone this unhinged."[51] Carrey's performance as Joel also received acclaim and multiple award nominations, with many reviewers noting his casting against type. Jason Killingsworth in a review for Paste magazine said of his performance "Carrey nails the part, winning audience sympathy from the opening moments of the film".[52] Moira MacDonald in a review for The Seattle Times stated "[Jim Carrey is] not bad at all — in fact, it's the most honest, vulnerable work he's ever done",[53] while David Edelstein of Slate said "It's rarely a compliment when I refer to an actor as "straitjacketed," but the straitjacketing of Jim Carrey is fiercely poignant. You see all that manic comic energy imprisoned in this ordinary man, with the anarchism peeking out and trying to find a way to express itself."[54] The supporting cast also received acclaim, with several reviews, such as Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post and Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail singling out Ruffalo's performance for praise.[51][55]

Critics heavily praised Kaufman and his ambition, and he won numerous awards for his efforts, including an Academy Award and a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay.[48][56] In Slate, David Edelstein claimed Kaufman had "move[d] the boundary posts of romantic comedy,"[54] and Moira MacDonald of The Seattle Times called Kaufman "one of the few creative screenwriters working today."[53] However, Kaufman's writing also was the recipient of some criticism, with some, including John Powers of the LA Weekly, claiming it lacked passion[57] and Andrew Sarris of Observer criticizing the film's "nonexistent character development."[58] Gondry, like Kaufman, also received large amounts of praise, with The Washington Post acclaiming "the results [of Gondry using primarily live-action effects], in their intricate detail and execution," as "nothing short of brilliant."[51] Likewise, The Seattle Times in their review stated "Gondry ... makes it all a melancholy fun house, with camera work and visual tricks that rival the screenplay in invention."[53] Cinematographer Ellen Kuras similarly received praise for her work on the film, such as in a Salon magazine, where, in an overall negative review of the film, reviewer Stephanie Zacharek praised Kuras for her giving "the movie a look of dreamy urgency that's perfect for the story."[59]

Accolades[edit]

Award Award category Recipients Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actress Kate Winslet Nominated [48]
Best Original Screenplay Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman Won
British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) Best Actor in a Leading Role Jim Carrey Nominated [60]
[56]
Best Actress in a Leading Role Kate Winslet Nominated
Best Director Michel Gondry Nominated
Best Editing Valdís Óskarsdóttir Won
Best Film Anthony Bregman and Steve Golin Nominated
Best Screenplay - Original Charlie Kaufman Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role - Musical or Comedy Jim Carrey Nominated [61]
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Musical or Comedy Kate Winslet Nominated
Best Film - Musical or Comedy Michel Gondry Nominated
Best Screenplay Charlie Kaufman Nominated
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, Bierre Bismuth Nominated [62]
National Board of Review Best Screenplay - Original Charlie Kaufman Won [63]
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay - Original Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman Won [64]

Home media[edit]

Universal Home Entertainment released Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on DVD on September 28, 2004.[65] A Blu-ray edition release occurred in the U.S. on January 25, 2011.[66]

Legacy[edit]

Television series[edit]

In October 2016, Anonymous Content announced they would be working with Universal Cable Productions to produce a television series based on the film. Kaufman is not involved in writing the show. The project is still in planning stages.[67]

Media recognition[edit]

Year Presenter Title Rank Notes
2005 Writers Guild of America 101 Greatest Screenplays 24 [68][69]
2008 Empire The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time 73 [70]
2009 Time Out New York The TONY Top 50 Movies of the Decade 3 [71]
Slant Magazine The 100 Best Films of the Aughts 86 [72]
Paste The 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000-2009) 5 [73]
The A.V. Club The Best Films of the '00s 1 [74]
Metacritic Film Critics Pick the Best Movies of the Decade 2 [75]
2016 BBC The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films 6 [76]
2018 Empire The 100 Greatest Movies 41 [77]
They Shoot Pictures Don't They The 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films 5 [78]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Slant Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2004.
  3. ^ The film was ranked #6 on the BBC's list of the 100 best films of the 21st century, compiled from a survey of 177 film critics. "The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films". BBC. August 23, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2017. See also Dargis, Manohla; Scott, A.O. (Jun 9, 2017). "The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century ... So Far". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
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  9. ^ Rooney, David (September 5, 2017). "'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond': Film Review | Venice 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
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  47. ^ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind movie review – Film – Time Out London
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