Retrospective Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Year: 2004
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst

By Kristy Strouse

Love is messy. Life is even messier. Sometimes the hurt is too much. There are moments, after watching this film, where I wonder, would I want to forget? Would you? It would sure be easier. Or is it?

In the case of Joel and Clementine, in the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) nothing is simple, everything is messy, but ultimately (despite its surreal- dream-like sequences) it is also an honest appraisal of love in its many forms.

The film starts with the two fatefully meeting. Clementine (Kate Winslet) is bold, ostentatious; the complete opposite of the reserved Joel (Jim Carrey) but she strikes a chord with him- a jumpstart to his heart. There’s something there, even if it can’t be quantified. Just as the characters do, we feel a familiarity, a pull that is undeniable. The why is then revealed as we discover the two had one another erased from their minds. This isn’t the first time they’ve fallen for one another, which initiates a unique dramatic story that ensnares its audience.


Enter the interesting crew led by Tom Wilkinson, with Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo as his associates (with a funny, disconnected sort of dynamic here) and the somewhat creepy Elijah Wood. Wood has been dating Clementine using the information he received from Joel after the memory wipe. It is sad, but also another way of showing the strength of love… or in this case, perhaps, an unhealthy cohesion of infatuation and loneliness. What would we do for love? What would we do to move on?

When we figure out that she had Joel erased we see it from his perspective, trying to wrap his head around the absurdity of the situation. Eventually, he decides to take that irreversible leap and we re-live their memories, stunningly, with an ample hand and visually stunning sequences. Often, the two (within the memory) are aware of what’s happening but ultimately unable to stop it. Some decisions… can’t be unmade.

However, destiny, if one believes in such a thing, has a way of bringing these two back together. Like magnets, they are drawn to Montauk, to one another, and as Winslet says, “she’s not perfect.” There’s going to be things they dislike about each other, so, is it worth taking the leap again if you know it may be painful? Therein lies the rub.

eternal sun

What’s wonderful and unique about the movie is the fact that it questions things like fate and the consideration of love’s sneaky little design. Yet, it doesn’t abandon the facts: relationships take work, none of us is perfect, and in order to successfully bond yourself to another, you have to accept it all: thorns included. The film takes place around Valentine’s Day, so it’s only fitting to mention this unorthodox, but none the less, heartbreakingly beautiful film.

Both Winslet and Carrey do an admirable job of conveying their frustrations and their longings. They share a unique attraction that bursts with a contagious and aspiring desire. Their journeys (both times) are written with heart and precision by the always offbeat screenwriting mind of Charlie Kaufman with a direction by Michel Gondry. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a whirlwind of emotions, and it is the kind of romance that is just grounded enough, in reality, to inspire and incite, but whimsical enough to deserve its own special place in the genre’s history.

4.5 stars


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