Atharva Deshpande lives in Nashik, Maharashtra. He is a cinephile and a bookworm. He likes to talk about books & movies that interest him.
Since I will be pointing out some of the facts in the movie, breaking down scenes from the movie; there will be spoilers in the article below.
Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Mind is a 2004 Science Fiction Romance film directed by Michel Gondry and screenplay written by Charlie Kaufman. This film blended Science Fiction with Romance and made a drama that’s striking and thought-provoking. I am not saying this is the first Sci-Fi Romance film, but it was the first I saw.
Science Fiction is a genre of ideas and experiments. Where Science asks us questions like “how” with logical experiments and cause & effect, Science Fiction asks questions like “what-if?” Before watching ESSM, I always believed Sci-Fi only dealt with aliens and time travel, and robots.
Romance films also had the usual tricks up their sleeves. The hero and heroine meeting each other, falling in love, either of them not being compatible and a realization of love by the end. ESSM changes so many things in that clichés.
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman made a tale that challenged our notions and created one of the most beloved movies in modern cinema.
How did they blend Sci-Fi with Romance without making it overdramatic or flashy?
Let’s find out.
Premise Of The Film
Joel realizes that Clementine doesn’t remember him anymore. But it’s not an accident or disease she has. She doesn’t remember him because of a memory-erasing procedure that is being marketed for people who undergo breakups. Clementine has wilfully erased the memory of Joel from her mind. Joel then decides to undergo the same procedure.
The film keeps going on as Joel undergoes the procedure and memories of Clementine get erased one after another. So, very genuinely film has already mixed the elements of Science Fiction with Romance.
The procedure of erasing memories is right in the SCI-FI hemisphere whereas the subject matter that’s being erased is completely out of a Romance film. Due to the premise, genres are already blended.
Narrative Of The Film
The film's narrative is also a very important aspect. Kaufman doesn’t make this a straightforward screenplay. He takes us into the mind of the characters. When we meet Joel and Clementine for the first time, both of them have their memories erased. So, neither of them really know each other; but they are going to the place where they had met for the first time.
After that meeting, ESSM goes into reverse chronological order. We then see Joel finding out about Clementine’s procedure and with him, we find out the procedure. Without making exposition look like exposition, we have got the information. Then, we see Joel undergoing the procedure and the film then dips in and out of Joel’s mind.
What this kind of narrative does is create a surrealistic look at the whole movie. We never understand the complete scenario that’s going on. The first act contains many scenes that feel disoriented. But, in the second act the story starts making sense, we start to understand the sequences, we join the dots. Then Kaufman throws another twist. Joel’s midway freak out.
Around midway into his procedure (and midway into the movie), Joel decides he wants to have the memories attached to Clementine. He starts running around, he starts begging for the memories to stay. That’s when we empathize with the characters. We see their dysfunctional love. That’s when we charter into the theme of the movie.
Themes Of The Film
Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Mind is a daring film that asks so many questions. It breaks the genre conventions and clichés to press much more realistic and relatable issues. We see Joel and Clementine’s relationship wasn’t a perfect one. Both of them had different personalities, trust issues, and many other issues. Their love degraded as long as they stayed together.
But, then they meet again after erasing the memories. They circle back to each other, afresh and with a reset. The movie hints at destiny a little, with the fact that they go to crazy lengths to forget each other and end up meeting each other again. does that mean our actions are predetermined? Does that mean Joel and Clementine will have a toxic relation again and then they will erase memories again and meet each other again?
I honestly don’t know if the movie has the theme of predestination. But, there comes another underlying message or question. Would you wipe out an ex from your head if you could? Even if you could, are memories really gone? What’s the cost of erasing memories?
There’s one minor character played by Kirsten Dunst, who does the same mistake she had done before undergoing the procedure. So, is erasing the memories a solution? Or do we end up doing the same mistake, but more obliviously this time?
Kaufman’s script, Gondry’s direction, and Almost all of the actors’ performances make these themes more empathetic and interesting. Every aspect enhances the other and the film gives you a bittersweet ending.
You might end up asking more questions by the end of the film, or you might get some answers. All I can say is that Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Mind asked me a few questions that I wasn’t ready to be asked. I haven’t found any answers, but I understand that we have to start asking questions like these. The mind might not be spotless, but the sunshine of ideas and questions should be eternal.
On that note, I conclude this small article about one of my favorite movies of all time.
Let me know in the comments if you liked it.
Thanks for reading!
You can watch or re-watch the movie here.
© 2021 Atharva Deshpande