Welcome to the latest installment of a movie blog series about the best movies you (probably) haven’t seen. Last time, I featured the first foreign film of the series, City of God, and the week before, I wrote about 12 Angry Men, a black and white “old-school” courtroom drama.
(The idea is that I’ll throw out a movie that I think is really great, but isn’t a huge mainstream hit, or it’s not fresh and likely hasn’t been seen in quite a while—if at all. If you have seen it, share what you think about it—and feel free to rip me if you think it’s not worth watching! Then, in the comments, y’all make one movie suggestion as well. It’s that simple, and it’ll be a lot of fun if you’re a cinephile like me.)
This nomination for the best movie you (probably) haven’t seen is probably the first film featured I can truly say is cinema art to it’s core. It’s so complete, has so much depth, and is so creative in plot, thought, cinematography, and emotion, I have really struggled to decide the best way to write about it in a brief blog post. After all, this film is easily in my “Top 10” AND I wrote an entire term paper in a cinema studies class in college on this film and still had a hard time capturing, describing, and analyzing the film.* A masterpiece written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps more poetic than the verse from which it gets its namesake.
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;
The film is based on the lyrics of Alexander Pope‘s Eloisa to Abelard, a poem about a tragic love that leaves the female protagonist, Eloisa, longing for forgetfulness over fondness—the foundation on which Kaufman built his masterpiece.
*I actually did a video term paper analyzing the film, so I didn’t technically turn in a written paper.
Screenwriters rarely develop a distinctive voice that can be recognized from movie to movie, but the ornate imagination of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has made him a unique and much-needed cinematic presence. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a guy decides to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend erased after she’s had him erased from her own memory–but midway through the procedure, he changes his mind and struggles to hang on to their experiences together. In other hands, the premise of memory-erasing would become a trashy science-fiction thriller; Kaufman, along with director Michel Gondry, spins this idea into a funny, sad, structurally complex, and simply enthralling love story that juggles morality, identity, and heartbreak with confident skill. The entire cast–Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and more–give superb performances, carefully pitched so that cleverness never trumps feeling. A great movie. –Bret Fetzer
It seems that movies with plots that hinge on an element of memory have been very popular. Inception and Memento, both by Christopher Nolan, Minority Report, Total Recall, The Butterfly Effect, The Bourne Identity, and The Notebook, all come to mind as successful and popular films based around the concept.
Eternal Sunshine incorporates the plot complexity and analysis of consciousness from Inception, the structural irregularity and nonlinear plots of Memento and The Butterfly Effect, the science fiction of Minority Report, the memory manipulation of Total Recall, the romance of The Notebook (with a big dash of reality), and absolutely none of the action of The Bourne Identity.
This film didn’t seem to be as well received by the public as it was by the critics, who awarded it the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. While it’s #74 on IMDB’s list of the Top 200 movies as voted on by users, it grossed only $34 million at the box office, the ultimate yardstick for most movie studios. By comparison, Inception grossed $825 million, The Bourne Identity raked in $125 million, The Notebook took in $115 million, and Memento, which is it is commonly compared against as the best film of the 2000s, grossed $25 million, but only opened on 11 screens in the US, whereas Eternal Sunshine opened on 1,353 screens in America and had much more star power.
The soundtrack (score and sound effects) were very detailed and it is clear that Gondry was intentional about his use of audio to tell this intricate and phenomenal story.
Some Eternal Sunshine fun facts:
- Before Jim Carrey expressed interest in the role, Nicholas Cage was looked at to play Joel during casting. (Thank goodness they didn’t go down that road.)
- During Lacuna, Inc.’s operations, they used a computer from the 90s called the Amstrad PPC (Portable Personal Computer).
- The scene including the Barnum & Bailey circus was completely improvised when Gondry heard they were parading elephants in the city to Madison Square Garden and he told the crew to “load the vans.” Gondry’s favorite part of the movie resulted when he had Kate Winslet disappear without informing Jim Carrey she would, so Jim’s confusion is honest to the point where he says, “Kate?” but it was dubbed out.
- The definition of “lacuna” is, according to Merriam-Webster, as follows: “a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure”.
- For so many more fun facts, click here!
Based on Netflix’s star-rating system (1* = Hated it, 2* = Didn’t like it, 3* = Liked it, 4* = Really Liked it, 5* = Loved it), I give this film 5/5 stars.
I truly could write about this film for quite some time, without ever feeling like I’ve been able to accurately convey what it is, so I highly suggest you watch it for yourself.
The powers that be cut out what would have been the darkest sub-plot of the film. Mary (Kristen Dunst) actually had an abortion as a result of her affair with Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), which their affair was revealed near the end of the final film. Apparently, Mierzwiak forced her into the abortion because he didn’t want to leave his wife, and Mary wanted the memory erasing procedure after the abortion to forget the whole dilemma. It explains Mierzwiak’s wife’s severe reaction at the end of the film much better, as she appears to be a bit too sensitive to the context of the scene otherwise (even though she was correct in her assumptions). Honestly, I think the film would have been improved with the inclusion of this plot line, because it pulls Lacuna’s procedure out of the romantic lens we’ve been trained to see it through and allows us to fantastically image intentionally forgetting our personal flaws and mistakes.
END SPOILER ALERT.
I’d love to make this series even better, so if you have any ideas, share them! Don’t forget to submit your nominations in the comments below.