Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

by Afra Nariman

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson


“Adults are like this mess of sadness and phobias.”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most original explorations of the intersection between memory, identity, and human experience. Kaufman’s work consistently deals with the question of experience; what makes our experiences meaningful, lasting; and how we often fail to make the most of them — sometimes because of the fears and anxieties that we inherently attach to the haunting knowledge that every single moment of our lives carries an insurmountable weight, because simply, life is short and time doesn’t wait around for us to make the “right” decisions. 

A common trope of Kaufman’s work that is also seen here, is characters who are given the ability or opportunity to look objectively (from an outside perspective) at their lives, their past, their memories or experiences — and from this perspective realize the things that once mattered to them, the things they forgot to pay more attention to, to hold on to, and the things they were too afraid to make happen at all. Kaufman reminds us that each moment is fleeting, so we should always make the most of them; and that our memories of these moments are also fleeting, so we should never ignore the parts of us that are made up of them, or else we might as well be erasing a part of our identities. 

In Eternal Sunshine, Kaufman illustrates that while it may be true that we should NOT rely on other people for happiness (Joel should never have expected Clementine to “save him”), at the same time we cannot ignore other people’s roles in helping create the spaces in our lives and memories where happiness (or also sadness) once took place. Happiness is often misconceived as something lasting — a state of being — but this is not true. Happiness is itself a fleeting moment — a memory that begins to end as soon as it is first felt. And like all memories, each moment of happiness in our lives becomes a part of who we are; just as every moment of sadness, of fear, or anything else negative that we all seem to be unable to not always carry around with us everywhere we go, is too, a part of us that we cannot ever forget. Happiness, too, is a memory we all must remember to carry with us even after a moment of it ends. Moments are what make up our lives, and the people in our lives are what often make up moments. It’s all fleeting, but their effects we carry with us; and whether that entails pain or joy, we shouldn’t want it any other way. This film essentially presents a “what if..” situation — what if you didn’t have to carry around these intertwined memories of happiness and sadness — and it concludes by showing us how empty and confused we’d be without them. There’s no way forward without our past.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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