image: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Netflix
One of the most captivatingly beautiful films I have ever seen is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In my eyes, it marries the two genres of romcom and sci-fi effortlessly; I struggle to imagine the day in which I no longer hold this film in such high esteem. Admittedly, it’s a movie that demands you sit and watch it repeatedly in an attempt to draw sense and coherence out of its (at times, thoroughly perplexing) narrative – but I believe that the first viewing alone was enough for me to extract an understanding of the fundamental emotions that both the writer (Charlie Kaufman) and the director (Michel Gondry) intended to portray.
In poignant reminiscence to the plot of Eternal Sunshine, I have certain moments and memories with people in my life which I would be tempted to forget entirely by means of erasing them, just as the protagonists of Eternal Sunshine do (the incredible duo-turned-ex-lovers, Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey)). I have no doubts that life would be simpler if we were able to simply erase thoughts and memories that bring us pain. In a striking portrayal of loss and regret, Gondry uses the characters of Clementine and Joel to make a case: regardless of whether a memory is distressing or tragic, if it makes you feel, it is worth holding onto.
The titular ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ is a song that was originally released in 1980 by The Korgis, then recorded by Beck and featured on the movie soundtrack. The vocals are haunting when set against the visuals of perseverance and loss; the protagonists and the viewers are subsumed by the profound sense of emotion created by the combination of both sound and cinematography as together, we learn that every mistake we make is a lesson well learned. This film taught me that loss, especially, is a learning curve. Losing something or someone can often catalyse a total upheaval of life as we know it. Sometimes, situations are impossible to fix, but the pain serves as a reminder to do things differently next time.
It’s an alarming feeling to suddenly realise you’re in a more compromising position than previously thought, blind to the dependence you have on another to maintain some semblance of happiness and desperately craving their attention in order to go about day-to-day life as normal. But when that communication eventually dwindles, the necessity to prioritise yourself before allowing others into your comfortably recognisable world becomes even more evident. Like Joel and Clementine, sometimes prioritising yourself means the permanent exclusion of someone from your life, and then right at the last moment you’re tested—you recognise that perhaps their presence in your life is better than nothing, despite it not always being the healthiest decision in the long-term.
I often turn to the soundtrack when I feel upset regarding personal issues. The uplifting compilation—which includes the aforementioned Beck cover as well as ELO’s euphoric ‘Mr Blue Sky’—ties in with perhaps what can be interpreted as the film’s key theme: realisation. If I feel troubled, I’m reminded that eventually, through my own determination, life will fit into place in a jigsaw-like fashion. I find that concept comforting when in need of moral support to carry on through any hardships I face, and this sentiment is reflected beautifully in Eternal Sunshine.
The wintertime always draws me back to this film. When it began to snow in Sheffield, I was reminded of the film’s pale, frosty New York city backdrop. From the ice-white dust delicately blanketing the platform of Montauk Station where the protagonists first catch a glimpse of each other, or the foggy, almost faded shots of Umbrella Beach, and even the frozen Charles River in Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, the colours reflected by the locations in the film provide a hazy canvas for the innocent and passionate coupling of Joel and Clementine to be projected against. Although the wintertime can often be represented in cinema as inherently bleak due to its cold, dark nights, I believe that it has the potential to be one of the most stunningly portrayed seasons in cinema if one is willing to accept its gloominess as one of its most defining features of beauty and depth of emotion.
Bizarrely, having acquired huge critical acclaim on its release and even winning the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, I have found that Eternal Sunshine seems to be a film which not many people have heard of. Over time, it has gained a compact but ardent fanbase, almost a cult-following who seem easily able to persuade others to follow suit by watching and becoming hugely attached to Kaufman and Gondry’s masterpiece. Everybody should watch this film at least once in their lifetime, though you may find yourself never quite being able to shake it.
(A piece I wrote for the amazing Aurelia Mag)