Movie of the Week: Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Michel Gondry directs Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet and Kirsten Dunst in this surreal anti-romantic comedy where a heartbroken man gets all the memories of his ex wiped.

Charlie Kaufman is a fascinating writer and film maker. His work is deadpan but emotionally rich. Surreal but grounded in the mundane. Literate to the point of being obtuse (there are at least two of his movies whose titles I wouldn’t be confident saying out loud in public) yet the feelings his complex meta narratives interrogate are universally recognisable. He picks away at the scabs of modern living, modern relationships and our vicious internal lives and turns these assassinations of the now into vivid, original flights of fantasy. Watch our protagonist’s Joel Barish’s memories crumble, wipe, self destruct and eliminate before our very eyes. A bleaker, sustained visual metaphor for forgetting has never before been realised on screen. Quirky French video director Gondry might have come up with the methodology but Kafman’s script of brain immolation is the blueprint for this stunning live delete. The central invention of the story could only occur in a pre-social media age. So this 2004 baby gets in just under the wire as one of the last analogue era artefacts of relationships before Facebook. Now our memories aren’t hidden in shoeboxes or on dusty album shelves, contact with people is a lot more difficult to switch off. Few of us truly leave our hive never to be heard from again. Our footprint left in others lives is impossible refill and our contact with others who share contact is harder to sever. It is quite quaint seeing Kaufman and Gondry’s world of cassette tapes, mass mail outs and hand written notebooks. There’s a bleak cynicism to the narrative thrust. After starting to have his memories of Clementine erased Joel begins to realise he loves her. He needs the context of the last few years, the adjacent memories of books read and knowledge earned… he tries to stop the delete and save the relationship. Hold onto one last recognition of her so he can reignite the partnership once the process is complete. But he only starts his quest once the hurt, paranoia and doubt has been removed. Who is to say Clementine and Joel will fare any better on the second attempt? Or even if this new attempt will be only their second attempt? How many previous tries to make a go of it have already been wiped? The final act is genuinely heartbreaking… revelations, reconciliations and important moments in one’s emotional development reduced to fading whispers. “I need your loving like the sunshine. Everybody’s gotta learn sometimes.” A paranoid nightmare and the finest break-up movie ever made.


Perfect Double Bill: Anomalisa (2015)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here


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