Characterized By Nostalgia: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Every year on Valentine’s Day, I post a message on my social media profiles:
Random thoughts for Valentine’s Day (insert year). Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.
These first lines from the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind pretty much sum up my philosophy in life. How we all just want to believe in some stupid fairytale of love, and in the end, if we look close enough, we realize it’s all just a load of crap. From the minds of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine tells of the relationship of Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski — starting at the end — which is easily perceived to be the beginning. Confused yet?
After a whirlwind day of fate flinging Clem and Joel into the same city, restaurant, train, they spend a brief amount time at her apartment, ending with Clem asking Joel to call her. He rushes home, paces briefly, then dials.
From here we are thrown into a gorgeous twisted way of storytelling, never quite sure as to what point we are at. The only clue through the movie is the color of Clementine’s hair. We see it green when we interpret what the “real” meeting date was between she and Joel. Then orange, sometimes red, and ultimately, as at the beginning of the film, blue. Though there is this consistency — what makes tracking this movie difficult is the fact that the set up involves Joel having Clementine erased from his memory. With this, and the back and forth scenes of the two’s relationship, the perception that perhaps Joel and Clem have erased each other more than once comes into play. Also, we come to realize that the idea of fate throwing Clem and Joel together may not actually be fate but deep subconscious decision making. Clearly, if you haven’t seen the movie, there is a chance you won’t follow a thing about this article.
When we first meet Joel, for a brief moment, he is inspecting damage done to his car — which we later learn is Clem’s fault. Joel is wearing a polo shirt and an open jacket. The weather appears spring or fall like, and Joel’s shaggy hair blows in the wind. However, moments later we see Joel waiting for his train, coat bundled up over a shirt and sweater and a hat snug over his head. Perhaps this is a mistake in editing, or it could be that throughout the movie we are seeing multiple instances of the same events. Maybe if we pay special close attention to the movie, we will see more of this and gather a deeper meaning than what we see in a first superficial watch.
That being said, let’s get into why I love this movie so much.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind holds a place in my heart much like Lost In Translation, which I discussed a few weeks ago — which is to say I cry every time I watch it. The best part of Eternal Sunshine is that it is completely truthful in terms of relationships. There is the initial excitement of relationships — easily shown by Joel’s pacing of his apartment before hastily dialing Clem’s number, and as she answers, she almost immediately says “What took you so long?”. There is the slow demise of the relationship with Joel becoming irritated with the little things Clem does — and her obvious irritation in him. This all boils down to the point of erasing. Yet, as we are shown in the first scene of the movie, and brought back to in the end, we know no matter what — due to the irritations, the boredom, or the lies — Joel and Clem are meant to be. Even through the erasing process, Joel slowly comes to realize that the good times, be them brief in what we the audience see, these good times outweigh the bad and he wants to be with Clem.
I only own two items from Eternal Sunshine: A Clementine poster and a Lacuna T-shirt.
That’s because the emotional impact and the influence of the film that I carry with me every day is more prominent than any memorabilia. There are too many lessons and such that are thrown at us in the movie to pass it up. Much like in Lost In Translation being too mundane — I’ve heard people call Eternal Sunshine too confusing, etc. For those who can follow it, and see everything inside it, we know what it is. It’s perfection.
Let’s be honest. We are all Joel or Clem in some way. Me? Yeah, of course I see myself as Clem. I never know what I’m going to like one minute to the next. I change my hair color often. I sometimes do impulsive stupid things. I push people away just to see if they cling. I don’t like BS. I always feel like I’m missing something. Pretty much, Clem is a perfectly written character that anyone can identify with and if they don’t, then they must be downright perfect.
There is a quick conversation before we realize the end of the film is coming — a brief moment between Joel and Clem, sitting on the steps of the beach house.
Those two little words — “Enjoy it”. Apply those to life in general, people. It makes it easier.
Everything can be summed up by the end of Eternal Sunshine. If it doesn’t cause you to at least tear up, there is something possibly severely wrong with you. It’s the concept that Joel and Clem accept each other’s faults — though they are not known at the current time being — and that’s all that matters. Clem even warns Joel that he’s going to end up hating her — and it’s not a martyr situation. She fully admits that she will be bored with him eventually down the line. Joel is overwhelmed. Though it’s a crazy thought — as he is now aware that they’ve tried before and it didn’t work out — he simply does not care. So as Clem warns him, tells him it will never work, we see his acceptance.
And then the last two lines of the film are spoken.
A perfect love story.