“Random thoughts for Valentine’s Day, 2004: Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”
The 2004 indie film and cult classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” begins with this cynical narration, setting the tone for the rest of the film. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, is a thought-provoking, heartfelt exploration of relationships and loss.
The film follows introverted, inhibited Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and extroverted, free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), who start dating after they meet on a train. Unbeknown to either of them, they’d actually been in a relationship before, but after breaking up, they both went through a medical procedure to erase each other from their memories.
The movie then jumps back in time, tracking Joel and Clementine’s relationship in reverse through Joel’s memory-erasing procedure. Realizing that he’s made a mistake, Joel frantically tries to hold on to Clementine by escaping with his memory of her into different memories, in the hopes that they won’t be found.
What stands out about “Eternal Sunshine” is that its portrayal of life and relationships is significantly more realistic than many other romantic comedies. The film’s portrayal of both the good and the ugly leaves you as a viewer on a bittersweet note that is perfectly accented by composer Jon Brion’s sentimental piano waltz theme.
Rather than relying on simple errors of communication or circumstance to create a relationship-related plot conflict, the conflict in “Eternal Sunshine” comes from the more deep-seated issue of who Joel and Clementine fundamentally are: polar opposites whose fatal flaws create a wedge between them that ultimately drives them apart.
However, despite Joel’s assertion about Valentine’s Day, the film is still somewhat optimistic. Because it follows Joel and Clementine’s former relationship in reverse, we get to see that they had early highs despite their later lows. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” questions whether, after a meaningful relationship ends, it’s better to remember the good and the bad or to try to forget. Ultimately, the film allows the viewer to come to their own conclusion.
Reach writer Natalie Rand at email@example.com. Twitter: @n_rand_
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