Late in the film when Clementine and Joel meet (for the first time chronologically) we get the feeling that we’re experiencing some strange time of déjà vu. It’s a different time and yet our protagonists are exactly the same. Sure, her hair isn’t the same colour, and sure they’re not on a bus alone but Joel’s good-natured blandness is the same and Clementine’s almost sadistic cheer is still there. In what’s arguably one of the most poignant moments in the film Joel and Clementine watch as Clementine and Joel break into a house. Disconcerted by this unusual woman Joel leaves. As they look on Clementine turns to him and says, “What if you stayed this time?” That, right there, is the core of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Of course it’s decidedly difficult to recreate what you’ve already forgotten but as Joel resists the erasure procedure and as the film reaches its dénouement that piece that is the human in us all realises our love of second tries…or even the third. After all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about repetition
I’ve often heard Eternal Sunshine referred to as a romantic comedy, but I’m never that sure that it’s a romance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind works because it’s completely aware of one thing – its characters. It’s not exactly a character study in the most stringent sense of the word, but from Winslet’s tumultuous Clementine to Dunst’s almost pathetic Mary. There’s no one in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that falsified and with a plot that focuses on erasure of memories, it can’t be. With his pervasive script Kaufman takes a look at the minds of us all and even more, he looks at the relation we have to fate. Erasing a single thing, even thoroughly, can’t particularly prevent us from our own inclinations as humans. The saying goes; the heart wants what the heart wants – even when the mind doesn’t have a clue. And yet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind doesn’t exactly hit us over the head with its message, if you can call it that.
Whenever I think of the film my mind returns, almost immediately, to that train ride to Montauk. It’s tied to that scene in the erasure as Clementine wanly whispers to Joel, “Meet me in Montauk.” Of course, neither of the two is aware of their past predilection for each other, but the two click, with each other even when they don’t. It’s the sort of chemistry that seems strange, but works. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet don’t exactly cross the mind as a typical couple, but it’s their unusualness that makes them work so well – and the very fact that it’s Joel and Clementine we’re watching on film, not Jim or Kate. It’s the complete self-awareness of Clementine even as she’s self deprecating – “I apply my personality in a paste” – she says, almost as if for reaffirmation. Or, Joel’s very dour opening monologues that Carey plays just right.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a film I can extract the best scenes and write a logical analysis of, it doesn’t really work like that. It’s all the odd, idiosyncratic bits and pieces together that make for the excellence that it is. It’s a true gem, and oddly, unlike most excellent films, it’s actually remembered for its goodness. (Only yesterday Luke listed it as his 33rd favourite film.)