Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michel Gondry
Produced by Anthony Bregman
Steve Golin
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman
Story by Michel Gondry
Charlie Kaufman
Pierre Bismuth
Narrated by Jim Carrey
Starring Jim Carrey
Kate Winslet
Kirsten Dunst
Mark Ruffalo
Elijah Wood
Tom Wilkinson
Music by Jon Brion
Cinematography Ellen Kuras
Editing by Valdís Óskarsdóttir
Studio Focus Features
Anonymous Content
This is That
Distributed by Focus Features
Release date(s) March 19, 2004 (2004-03-19)
Running time 109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $72,258,126

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American romantic fantasy film about an estranged couple who have each other erased from their memories, scripted by Charlie Kaufman and directed by the french director, Michel Gondry. The film uses elements of science fiction, psychological thriller, and nonlinear narration to explore the nature of memory and romantic love.[1] It opened in North America on March 19, 2004, and grossed over US$70 million worldwide.[2]

Kaufman and Gondry worked on the story with Pierre Bismuth, a French performance artist. The film stars an ensemble cast starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, and David Cross.

The title is taken from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope, the story of a tragic love affair, where forgetfulness became the heroine's only comfort:

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

The film was a critical and commercial success, developing a strong cult following and receiving a myriad of accolades, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film was lauded by critics as one of the best and most thought-provoking[3] films of 2004.



Emotionally withdrawn Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and unhinged free spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) strike up a relationship on a Long Island Rail Road train from Montauk, New York. They are inexplicably drawn to each other, despite their radically different personalities.

Although they apparently do not realize it at the time, Joel and Clementine are in fact former lovers, now separated after having spent two years together. After a nasty fight, Clementine hired the New York City firm Lacuna, Inc. to erase all her memories of their relationship. (The term "lacuna" means a gap or missing part; for instance, lacunar amnesia is a gap in one's memory about a specific event.) Upon discovering this, Joel is devastated and decides to undergo the procedure himself, a process that takes place while he sleeps.

Much of the film takes place in Joel's mind. As his memories are erased, Joel finds himself revisiting them in reverse. Upon seeing happier times of his relationship with Clementine from earlier in their relationship, he struggles to preserve at least some memory of her and his love for her. Despite his efforts, the memories are slowly erased, with the last memory of Clementine telling him: "Meet me in Montauk".

In separate but related story arcs occurring during Joel's memory erasure, the employees of Lacuna are revealed to be more than peripheral characters. Patrick (Elijah Wood), one of the Lacuna technicians performing the erasure, is dating Clementine while viewing Joel's memories, and copying Joel's moves to seduce her. Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the Lacuna receptionist, turns out to have had an affair with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the married doctor who heads the company—a relationship which she agreed to have erased from her memory when it was discovered by his wife. Once Mary learns this, she quits her job and steals the company's records, then sends them out to all clients of the company.

Joel and Clementine come upon their Lacuna records shortly after re-encountering each other on the train. They react with shock and bewilderment, given that they have no clear memory of having known each other, let alone having had a relationship and having had their memories erased. Joel tries to convince Clementine that they can start over, but Clementine states that it could end the same way. Joel accepts this, and they decide to attempt a relationship anyway, starting their life together anew.


Targeted memory erasure

Targeted memory erasure is a fictional non-surgical procedure. Its purpose is the focused erasure of memories, particularly unwanted and painful memories, and it is a mild form of brain damage which—to relieve his fears of the procedure, Dr. Mierzwiak tells Joel—is comparable to a "night of heavy drinking". The procedure is performed exclusively by Lacuna Incorporated. The characters of Joel and Clementine used this procedure to erase their memories of each other. As part of the screenwriting and promotion for the film, a backstory for the technology was made, including a spoof website for "Lacuna, Inc." that described it.[4]

Though the procedure in the film is fictional, recent research has shown it is possible to successfully erase selective memories in lab mice. Such a procedure may lead to cures of post-traumatic stress.[5] There was an episode of Season One of the This American Life TV and radio show dedicated to the science behind this, the findings from which were released shortly before the film was made.

Depictions of the memories

Throughout the film a wide range of film techniques are used to depict both the destruction of Joel's memories as well as his transitions from one to another. These range from quite subtle to extremely dramatic:

  • The picture quality and sound resolution of the memory simply deteriorate (one example being when Joel talks with his neighbor in the lobby of their apartment building).
  • Use of very limited stage lighting (such as when Clementine is pulled away from Joel in the train station).
  • Subtle details fade from view (examples of this being when Clementine's name fades away from the Lacuna postcard that Joel has in his hand or when the books in the Barnes and Noble gradually turn white).
  • In one case, time and perspective seem to "loop" (the scene where Joel tries to make up with Clementine after she stormed out of his apartment, Joel finds himself unable to get from one end of the street to another – this also combines the elimination of details such as the displays of stores. Also in this scene, we repeatedly see reflections of the lamp in Joel's apartment floating in the air).
  • Overt disintegration of the memories (examples of this include the car falling from the sky, the disappearance of a car that Joel and Clementine are in, the disappearance of a fence, a scene where they run through a train station with the people there "winking out", and perhaps most elaborately, the falling apart of the beach house that Joel and Clementine were in).
  • Heavy sound and image distortion, faces appearing blank (when Joel and Clementine enter the erased memory of Joel speaking to Dr. Mierzwiak).
  • Cycling between the adult actors and their younger selves (when Joel recalls a humiliating memory of being forced by bullies to hit a dead bird with a hammer, the footage switches back and forth between young actors playing Joel and Clementine and Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey. Joel is apparently able to visualize Clementine's youthful appearance because he had seen a picture of her as that when they were still together).
  • Scenes of the film use a trompe-l'œil (or forced perspective) effect, enabling the actors to be seen by the audience as life-sized, yet their characters are existing in a larger world. (Examples are when Joel and Clementine are in the kitchen sink, or when Joel hides from his mother and a neighbor/Clementine under the table in his memory as a child.)

Throughout the film, a useful indicator for when a particular event is taking place is Clementine's hair color. Any time she is shown with blue hair indicates something in the present or a memory from the recent past (from about the time of the couple's disengagement). Clementine has green hair during the couple's first encounter, and shortly changes it to red when they become romantically involved. She then changes her hair color to 'tangerine' orange as their disengagement nears.

Deleted and moved scenes

The shooting script – which has been published as a book[6]  – and early drafts contain a fair amount of material that was either left on the cutting room floor or never shot.

A major change that came in editing was that the sequence of scenes where Joel and Clementine are shown (re)meeting in Montauk and then going to the Charles River got moved from near the end of the film to the beginning. According to the Kaufman interview published with the shooting script, this was done to make sure the audience liked Clementine, as without it, their initial impression of her, based upon scenes from the end of Joel and Clem's first relationship, might have been too negative.

Dropped scenes included dialogue on the train, dialogue in Clementine's apartment, scenes with Joel and Naomi (the girlfriend he had before Clementine, portrayed by Ellen Pompeo), Joel in the Lacuna office describing his negative feelings about Clementine in more detail, and scenes showing Joel and Clementine on their first "date". The dialogue from the deleted Lacuna office scene is used later, when he is listening to a tape of himself describing Clementine's personality flaws, and brief moments of the cut scene showing their first "date" are mixed in with the jumble of memories Joel sees of Clementine as the erasure process comes to an end. In fact, much of the content of the film was moved around in editing. A fair amount of scenes were changed on-the-spot by director Michel Gondry, including scenes showing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the streets of Manhattan. Another dropped scene was one that took place in a bar where a very drunk Clementine tried to make Joel jealous by coming onto another man (which might have prompted Joel's claim in his taped interview with Mierzwiak that Clementine was very promiscuous). Another deleted scene that appears in the special two-disc DVD set is an extended scene in the doctor's office when Mary Svevo is listening to the tape of her file. Mary is saying in the tape why she should have the procedure done, especially after having to get an abortion. Yet another showed Joel and Clementine together on the couch reading the mystery novel "The Red Right Hand", the one Clementine is seen reading in the diner at Montauk where she and Joel (re)meet for the first time.

Awards and recognition

Kaufman, Gondry, and Bismuth won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

American Film Institute Lists

  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated[7]
  • AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film[8]

Critical reception

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was met with overwhelming acclaim, and Winslet's performance was generally praised. The film has a 93% certified fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website based on 216 reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is "a twisty, trippy, yet moving take on love, Kaufman-style."[9]

Roger Ebert commented, "Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, Eternal Sunshine has an emotional center, and that's what makes it work."[10] Ebert later included the film in his "Great Movies" series.[11]

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."[12]

In 2006, in issue 201 of Empire magazine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was voted #83 in their 201 Greatest Movies of All Time poll as voted for by readers. That same year, Winslet's performance as Clementine was included in Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time at #81. Claudia Puig, reviewer in USA Today said about her performance that "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."[13]

Carol Vernallis points out that Gondry's experience in directing music videos contributed in the film's mise-en-scene 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.[14]

In November 2009, Time Out New York ranked the film as the third-best of the decade:

In the past, both director Michel Gondry’s kindergarten arts-and-crafts aesthetic and Charlie Kaufman’s Möbius-striptease scripts have come off as insufferably twee and gimmicky. So why does this existential meta-rom-com always leave us teary-eyed and genuinely moved?...[T]he duo finally finds the right combination of high-concept and humanity here, taking the what-if idea of a company that lobotomizes the lovelorn into territory that’s funny, painful, poetic and unsettlingly weird.[15]

Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Only the bizarre and byzantine brain of Charlie Kaufman could turn this 2004 story about erasing all memories of love into one of the most romantic movies of the decade."[16] Slant Magazine placed the film at number 87 on their list of the best films of the 2000s.[17]

In a January issue of The Onion, the comic newspaper's AV Club rated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the number one film of the 2000s, beating out the likes of Christopher Nolan's Memento and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. The article states, "It’s the rare film that shows us who we are now and who we’re likely, for better or worse, forever to be." [18]

It has been calculated to be the tied-for-second most critically acclaimed film of the 2000s (behind There Will Be Blood and tied with the three Lord of the Rings films) by virtue of its number of appearances on prominent 'films of the decade' lists.[19]

Music and soundtrack

The soundtrack album for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released by Hollywood Records on March 16, 2004.

The score was composed by Los Angeles musician Jon Brion. Other songs featured are from artists such as Jeff Lynne's E.L.O. ("Mr. Blue Sky" was featured in trailers and television spots but not used in the film), The Polyphonic Spree, The Willowz, and Don Nelson. Beck, in a collaboration with Jon Brion, provides a cover version of the Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime".

Notably, many of the vocal songs either revolve around memories or the sun.

During the scene where Clementine enters Joel's apartment finding Joel listening to the tape about Clementine while staring at the skeleton painting of Clementine, the underscore is a poignant arrangement of "Oh My Darling Clementine." The harmonic voicings are such where the melody is clear up until the point of the line "you are lost and gone forever", where the arranger opted for use of dramatic diminished chords in the harmony thereby understating the fact that the two are gone and lost forever having no memory of each other.

Three filmi songs from old Hindi films can be heard playing in the background. "Mera Man Tera Pyaasa" (My heart is thirsty for you) from the film Gambler (1971) performed by Mohammed Rafi, "Tere Sang Pyaar Mein" (With you, in love) performed by Lata Mangeshkar, and "Waada Na Tod" (Don't break the promise) by Lata Mangeshkar from the film Dil Tujhko Diya (Gave my heart to you) (when Clementine invites Joel to her apartment for a drink). All the three songs are listed in the original soundtrack credits.

The musical score from the film's opening scenes have also been used in television and cinema adverts in the UK for mobile phone company Vodafone.

Music relating to the film

Many bands have referenced the film in song, including The Morning Of in their song "Tell Me I'm Wrong", Breaking Benjamin in their song "Forget It", Bayside in the song "Montauk", O.A.R. in the song "Love and Memories", Backseat Goodbye in the song "Technicolor Eyes", Epik High in the song "Free Music", Christmas Fuller Project in the song "Meet Me in Montauk", The Autumns in the song "Clem", Sarah Jaffe in the song "Clementine", Signalrunners with the track "Meet Me in Montauk", and Circa Survive in the song also titled "Meet Me in Montauk" as well as several other songs on their 2005 album, Juturna.

Rapper Jay Electronica sampled songs from the soundtrack on his mixtape, "Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)." "Your Ex-lover is Dead" by Stars is also a reference to the film, and the video to the song is also reminiscent of the film due to the band performing lying down on an iced over lake. Vienna Teng has said that her song "Recessional" was inspired by the film.

Ryan Star's "Losing Your Memory", from the album Songs from the Eye of an Elephant, includes the lyrics "I wake in Montauk with you near." In the context of the song, it is a clear reference to the film.

Dream pop group Memoryhouse sampled Jon Brion's score cue "Phone Call" for their 2010 single "Lately". [20]

Film setting and locations

The film is set largely in the Long Island suburb of Rockville Centre, in Montauk, Long Island, and in New York City.

According to the end credits, it was filmed in and around Brooklyn, Manhattan, Montauk, Mount Vernon, Wainscott, and Yonkers, New York; also Bayonne and West Orange, New Jersey. The Barnes and Noble scenes were filmed at the Columbia University Bookstore. Clementine's house was filmed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Some of the scenes in Yonkers were filmed along Riverdale Ave and Valentine Ln. Also, the Charles River scene was filmed at FDR State Park in Yorktown, New York.

All of the train scenes were shot aboard a Metro-North Railroad train along the New Haven Line, and the Mount Vernon East train station substituted for the Rockville Centre station.

Home video

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released on DVD in the U.S. in separate anamorphic widescreen and full screen editions on September 28, 2004. Both editions carry English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English DTS 5.1 Surround and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks. Bonus features included on this disc are:[21]

  • Feature Commentary with Director Michel Gondry and Writer Charlie Kaufman
  • Deleted Scenes
  • A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry
  • The Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video
  • Lacuna, Inc. Commercial

A special two-disc widescreen Collector's Edition DVD was released in the U.S. on January 4, 2005. Features on Disc 1 are identical to the single-disc edition. Bonus features on the two-disc edition include:[22]

  • Collectible Packaging and Booklet with Photos
  • A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry
  • Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
  • Additional Deleted / Extended Scenes
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue
  • "The Misadventures of Superdog" by Joel Bar(r)ish (22 second Easter egg accessible just below other features)

A HD DVD edition was released in the U.S. on April 24, 2007, with a 1080p / VC-1 video transfer, and both English and French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround tracks. This edition includes all the bonus features from the two-disc Collector's Edition, sans the collectible packaging and booklet.[23]

A Blu-ray edition was released in the U.S. on January 25, 2011, with a 1080p / MPEG-4 AVC video transfer, and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround and French DTS 5.1 Surround tracks. This edition also includes all the bonus features from the two-disc Collector's Edition, sans the collectible packaging and booklet.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  2. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  3. ^ Grau, Christopher, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", Routledge 2009
  4. ^ "Lacuna Inc." spoof website
  5. ^ "Power of the Memory Molecule". Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  6. ^ Kaufman, Charlie; Gondry, Michel (March 15, 2004). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The Shooting Script. Newmarket Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1557046109. 
  7. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  8. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  9. ^ Rotten Tomatoes, Main Page of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reviews
  10. ^ Reviews :: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from Roger Ebert's website
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger, 2010-01-02. Great Movies review of Eternal Sunsine of the Spotless Mind.
  12. ^ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind movie review – Film – Time Out London
  13. ^ Puig, Claudia, 2006. USA Today, Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  14. ^ Vernallis, Carol. "Music video, songs, sound: experience, technique and emotion in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Screen. 49.3. (2008) pp.277–97.
  15. ^ The TONY top 50 movies of the decade. Time Out New York. November 26 – December 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  16. ^ Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  17. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Film". Slant Magazine. Retrieved February 10, 2010. 
  18. ^ The best films of the '00s
  19. ^ There Will Be Blood Wins the Decade. (2009-12-18). Retrieved on 2011-01-08.
  20. ^ Pitchfork: Rising: Memoryhouse
  21. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  22. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  23. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  24. ^ "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Retrieved 2011-02-24. 

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