Study Guide

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Introduction


Release Year: 2004

Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet


Ever get up on the wrong side of the bed? Ever get that feeling that makes you question who you are and what you're doing with your life and whether or not the last few months—or the last few years—have been a complete waste? 

Maybe you're just in a bad mood, maybe you ate too many gummy worms last night… or maybe your memory has been erased.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes us into the memories of a man who experiences a literal erasure of his past, specifically his past relationship with a woman he loved. 

And we don't just see the aftereffects; we're actually taken for a ride through the mind of Joel, our protagonist, as his memories are stripped from him one by him, one by one.

Eternal Sunshine came out in 2004, and while it didn't make a huge splash at the box office, critics and fans alike have adored the movie since the day it came out. It won the 2005 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and since then, it's won numerous other awards, including nominations for acting (by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), directing (by Michel Gondry), and editing. It's also been consistently named one of the top films of the entire decade.

Speaking of Carrey and Winslet, you might expect this film to be a strange mashup of absurd comedy and 19th-century British drama, but that isn't the case (although we know what we're going to pitch to Spike Jonze the next time we see him). In fact, in this movie, Winslet plays the zany character, while Carrey plays the more timid, down-to-earth one. 

How's that for a change of pace?

The movie also features Mary Jane, The Incredible Hulk, Frodo Baggins, and—believe it or not—Tom Wilkinson. Can it get any better?

All together, Eternal Sunshine is an offbeat romance with a hint of science fiction and some thrilling twists that keep you on your toes—though we still recommend sitting, since this baby isn't afraid to get heavy, either.

What is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind About and Why Should I Care?

What was science fiction in 2004 might not be so, uh, fiction-y in 2024. 

Let's just say this whole idea of memory erasure doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore. 

For real.

Some of the tough stuff that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind brings to the conversation could get pretty real in the near future. We're talking ethical questions, like whether it's okay to delete another human being from your life or remind people of what they've chosen to forget. So watching this movie isn't just an entertaining romp in the world of kooky sci-fi.

It might just be preparation for the future.

Trivia

Baby-Joel doesn't need CGI; it's all a visual trick called forced perspective. We infer the size-distance relationship using visual cues and previous experience, but Gondry is messing with our assumptions. (Source.)

Improvisation was the name of the game in Eternal Sunshine. The elephant parade scene, for example, was a complete coincidence. Clem punching Joel goodbye and even the scene where Stan and Patrick break out into laughter instead of reciting their lines were also improvised moments. (Source.)

One of Gondry's favorite shots is a quick view of Joel looking for Clem at the elephant parade. In the movie, Clem has been erased from this happy memory, but in reality Gondry pulled Kate Winslet away from Jim Carrey, and Jim was genuinely concerned and looking for his co-star. (Source.)

In the original screenplay, we get to see an old Clementine going to Lacuna and erasing an old Joel from her memory. It's obvious that the couple has been erasing each other from their own memories every few years for decades, never able to break the cycle. (Source.)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Resources

WEBSITES

Mapping Isn't Just for Minds
If you're a local New Yorker or know the area, you might appreciate this breakdown of Eternal Sunshine filming locations. You could even stop by Gondry's place and say hi.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

You Can't Spell "Identity" without Memory
An interesting article about the importance of memory to identity—and about how Eternal Sunshine shows this. Does that mean you lose a part of yourself if you can't remember what you ate for breakfast this morning?

Lights, Camera, Sunshine
Here's an article that sheds some light on Eternal Sunshine by talking about—what else?—lighting.

VIDEO

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Room
Now that you've seen Eternal Sunshine, why not see a short of a spinning camera watching Eternal Sunshine? Sounds pretty revolutionary, right? You just might want to pay more attention to the room than the movie. (Side note: it's not about Sauron.)

When Movies Meet Mice, All Becomes Reality
This whole 'Lacuna procedure' thing is just some far-fetched science fiction stuff, right? Well, for now, maybe. But neuroscientists are already doing some serious memory manipulation to mice. Check out what they have to say in this TED Talk.

"Are You Nuts?" "It's Been Suggested."
What happens when Carrey and Gondry take a break from Eternal Sunshine and decide to have a little fun? Well, this happens… whatever you want to call it.

Lacuna Matata
Watch this lovely Lacuna commercial, featuring everyone's favorite, Dr. Mierzwiak. But, uh, "destructive love affair"? That's an oddly extreme and specific example, don't you think, Howard?

The Rare One-Leggèd Winslet
Want to know how to make an eternally reversing street block? Look no further than this special effects explanation video, which takes you through some of Gondry's visual tricks.

A Night at the Movies
Here's a deleted scene of Clem and Joel's first date. If you hang around YouTube, you'll also find other deleted scenes, including plenty of Naomi (who was actually a character) and a disturbing piece of information about Mary's past.

The Jim and Michel Show
First part of an interview in which Carrey and Gondry talk about the filming of the movie—with some fun anecdotes thrown in, of course.

AUDIO

The Healing Power of Pomegranates
Leave it to an indie rock band to create a song about a made-up constellation from the movie. It's almost like obscurity is a contest these days.

IMAGES

Truer Words Have Never Been Said
Tired of your typical, feel-good, motivational, stock background images? Maybe this one will cheer you up.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Memories)
Check out Joel's mind map. We promise it's much more interesting than green dots on a picture of his brain.

Emotional Core Eradication
Are Joel's memories ever really rid of their emotional core? This is an interesting illustration, although it doesn't answer any of our questions.

Doppelgänger Kids
How could you resist an adorable picture of Jim and Kate holding their younger selves?