Care for a time-bending romance with a hint of psychological thriller to give you the cosy autumnal cry you so desperately crave? I certainly did, and here’s the review.
That’s right, I am adding my completely original and ground-breaking thoughts to a near twenty-year-old movie. Why, you might ask? Because it is not twenty years old to me. I watched it for the first time only a few days ago in fact, and it made such an impact on me that I feel the need to unpack it and make sense of my thoughts. The impact in question? It made me cry of course, and nothing motivates me better than tears.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this 2004 classic, it is best described as a romantic science fiction - an interesting mix to say the least. For my romance lovers: don’t let the science fiction element dissuade you. Think Richard Curtis’ About Time meets Groundhog Day. Set in New York, as all the best movies are, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind boasts a surprisingly all-star cast, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as the romantic leads alongside Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, Bring It On), The Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) and, all the way from the Shire, none other than Elijah Wood (aka Frodo from The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)). The talent in this movie astounded me, especially considering a few months ago I had never even heard of it, and even then, only through the eternal spring of random crap that is TikTok. The suggestion came to me in the background imagery of a video matched with the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s Coney Island from her evermore album. In short, virtually no one bar a small Internet subsector were talking about this film, but it had completely captivated me.
It begins with Jim Carrey’s character, Joel Barish, waking up one day feeling out of sorts; he skips work, catches a seemingly random train, and heads to a snowy beach in Montauk (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either), to write in his lonely diary with mysteriously missing pages. He feels empty but doesn’t understand why. In Montauk he meets a curious and outgoing woman called Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) in a textbook-style meet-cute, and thus the perfect set-up for a classic 2000’s rom-com is born. But all is not as it seems.
Only a few minutes in, our expectations are subverted, and we are tossed into an ambiguously separate space and time. At this point, Joel has just broken up with his two-year girlfriend, also named Clementine, whom he finds out has undergone a procedure to have all memories of him erased. Hurt and upset that she would wish to forget the time they spent together, he decides to follow suit as an act of stubborn revenge. The rest of the movie plays out half in the real
world, following the goings-on of the technicians carrying out the procedure, and half inside Joel’s head, as the defining moments of his failed relationship are replayed before being erased permanently from his memory. While at first he remains unconscious of this, he soon realises, watching as the worst and most bitter parts of the relationship fade into the precious, and he is left regretting the memory erasure, but unable to stop it. Powerless, he finds himself clinging desperately to the disappearing scenes and the woman he once loved.
Full of déjà vu and the occasional mind-bending scene, we gradually piece together their love story in a backwards retelling of what makes us fall in love, how this feeling is lost, and the interplay of time and memory in our
relationships. At the end of the film, there is one overarching question hanging in the air: should we forget the past if it causes us pain? Or is it an essential and defining quality of who we are?
Throughout the movie, Joel participates in a kind of active remembrance, and in doing so rediscovers a part of himself that had been lost along the way. Without these memories, he cannot remember and learn from his past and so, though he has forgotten, cannot move on. He is left retracing the steps of this lost period in his life, searching to fill the inexplicable void that remains.
If you could erase the most painful period in your life, would you? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tells us to keep it, feel it, and remember it. If our past defines our future, then there is no future without the past. The sunshine of ignorance may be eternal, but it has no depth without the shadow, and so I do not want it.
Ultimately, this film scratched my sad girl autumn longing for a cosy romance and a good cry, as well as making me look introspectively at my own life and relationships. We project our experiences onto the media we consume, and so
for me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came at just the right time to make a profound impact on my life. If you too are seeking a cosy cry and some psychological pondering, I highly recommend you give it a try.
Words: Grace Ralph