Note from Anne Marie: Please give major snaps my frequent collaborator Margaret, who wrote this inaugural post for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot event, covering my rear while I cover Katharine Hepburn. First time viewers, welcome. Long-time viewers: welcome back!
Though it’s a story about erasing from your mind all memory of love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is both romantic and unforgettable. That’s thanks to the off-kilter genius of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, whose sensibilities are singularly well-matched here. They take an inventive premise and fully embrace the idiosyncrasy and often pure weirdness that follow.
After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) and then Joel (Jim Carrey) both undergo an experimental procedure to have all traces of their past relationship wiped from their memory. The story is both mind-bendingly original and achingly familiar.
We’re guided through timeline leaps and emotional tangles by a smart visual language, and deceptively simple visual effects and beautiful cinematography elevate the story at every turn. Add also an unimprovable ensemble cast, and you find yourself with a wealth of options for the best shot of the film, scarcely a poor choice to be found.
But when I close my eyes and think ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘, there’s really only one thing I see, one thing that’s burrowed deep into my memory, clinging to the folds rather than be forgotten.
What else? It’s Clementine Kruczynski.
Moody, perceptive, impulsive, compassionate, vividly alive and whole, Kate Winslet’s Clementine Kruczynski (No jokes about her name) is a live-wire presence and the beating heart of the film. As Joel gets his memories of Clementine erased, we’re witness to a flurry of his experiences with her: dinners out, fights, household mundanities, and tender small moments. It’s when these precious happy memories disappear that he begins to regret his decision, and eventually panics as he realizes just how much he loses when the Clementine goes. The emotional crux of the movie requires the audience to find her just as lovable and as maddening as Joel does, and oh how we do.
Clementine being literally pulled from Joel’s memory, just after a rare moment of pure happiness in our melancholy lead, is the visual summary of the heartbreak of the film. (They used real wires to pull her back out of the frame, instead of CGI– one of many elements that make it so visceral and uncanny.) The frame is filled with Clementine’s lovely face before the light turns harsh and she slips suddenly away, leaving only darkness. Winslet’s performance is so beautifully present that her disappearance deflates both Joel and the scene. It’s a brief shot in a visually inventive sequence, but it leaves its mark.