You watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with a heavy heart. Ready to crack at any moment. It reminds me of everything in my adult life. Reminds me of just how gut-wrenching relationships can be. The movie is an exposed nerve. There is nothing that makes me feel everything at once like this movie. It’s a reminder of what’s important. Why you need to remember everything. It’s an open wound that you need to address or else it will eat you up.
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman crafted a classic back in 2004 that hits my emotions like a sack of bricks. Gondry’s second feature film is so close that it’s uncomfortable. The director uses surreal images throughout Eternal Sunshine to display what it’s like in Joel’s head as it’s treated as little more than a computer database by Dr. Mierzwiak and the employees of Lacuna, Inc. Gondry uses horrifying facial jumbles, the destruction of structures, and straight up vanishing acts to show the deletion of Joel and Clementine’s time together. It’s so effective in making the viewer feel like Joel’s world is coming apart.
This feeling wouldn’t be complete without effective leads. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are at the top of their games in Eternal Sunshine. Carrey’s career best might be in The Truman Show where his usual act is so effectively played against him, but Eternal Sunshine gives him a chance to just be…well, a guy. Joel is introverted and awkward. He doesn’t know how to express himself outside of his journal and art. The character works because it never makes you say, “WOW, THIS IS JIM CARREY.” He’s just Joel.
Winslet’s Clementine is chaos personified. There’s an allure to being with a spontaneous person. Someone who is unpredictable and just makes you feel alive. Someone who grabs you by the hand and pulls you kicking and screaming into fun and danger. Clementine is a character that could easily feel like someone is trying too hard to make a type rather than an actual character, but Winslet brings such a soul to it. She’s charming. She’s infuriating. She’s everything the character needs to be.
Joel and Clementine aren’t a perfect couple, and that’s why Eternal Sunshine is so effective. Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows how the highs and lows can be. They know Joel’s fury and sadness when he hears that Clementine has erased him. They know Clementine’s frustration with Joel’s repressed and sometimes stuffy nature. It has the joyful, the ugly, and all that falls in between.
It’s a film about just living your life. It might hurt like hell, but the pain is good. You don’t feel that pain unless you care in the first place. Life just has to be lived. You can’t go through the motions and fake it. Elijah Wood’s creepy fuck character Patrick doesn’t understand this.
Even though Joel and Clementine end up together, the film is about moving on and not being afraid to try something. Sure, there’s a significant chance that everything could just repeat itself and they could end up miserable. You take that chance with every relationship. But you can’t find out if you don’t try.