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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 American comedy-drama by French director Michel Gondry. The film uses elements of science fiction, nonlinear narration and neosurrealism to explore the nature of memory and romantic love. It opened in North America on March 19, 2004 and grossed over US$70 million worldwide.

Gondry worked on the story with Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth, a French performance artist. Together, they won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2005. The film stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and features Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, and David Cross.

The title is taken from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope, the story of a tragic love affair, where forgetfulness became the heroine's only comfort.


Emotionally withdrawn Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and dysfunctional free spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) strike up a relationship on a Long Island Rail Road train from Montaukmarker. They are inexplicably drawn to each other, despite their radically different personalities.

Although they apparently do not realize it at the time, Joel and Clementine are in fact former lovers, now separated after having spent two years together. After a nasty fight, Clementine hired a New York firm – Lacuna, Inc. – to erase all memories of their relationship. (The term "lacuna" means a gap or missing part. Lacunar amnesia is a gap in one's memory about a specific event.) Upon discovering this, Joel was devastated and decided to undergo this same procedure himself. However, while unconscious and having his memories of Clementine erased, he rebelled, realizing he wants to hold on to his memories of her after all.

Much of the film takes place in Joel's mind. As the memories are erased, Joel finds himself revisiting these past memories in reverse. Upon seeing happier times of his relationship with Clementine from earlier in their relationship, Joel struggles to preserve at least some memory of Clementine and his love for her. Despite Joel's efforts, the memories are slowly erased, with the last memory of Clementine telling him to "Meet me in Montauk".

In separate and related story arcs occurring during Joel's memory erasure, the employees of Lacuna are revealed to be more than peripheral characters. Patrick (Wood), one of the "eraser guys", is dating Clementine while viewing Joel's memories, and copying Joel's moves to seduce her. Mary (Dunst) turns out to have had an affair with the married doctor (Wilkinson) who heads the company, a relationship which she agreed to have erased from her memory when it was discovered by his wife.

Once Mary learns this, she steals the company's records and sends them to all of its clients. Joel and Clementine come upon these records just after having re-encountered each other on the train. They react with shock and bewilderment, given that they have no clear memory of having known each other, let alone having had a relationship and electing to have the memory erased. In the end, they reunite despite knowing that their past relationship, now erased, failed. Even though their prior relationship fell apart, they are willing to try again.


Targeted memory erasure

Targeted memory erasure is a fictional non-surgical procedure. Its purpose is the focused erasure of memories, particularly unwanted and painful memories, and it is a mild form of brain damage comparable to a "night of heavy drinking." The procedure is performed exclusively by Lacuna Incorporated. The characters of Joel and Clementine used this procedure to erase their memories of each other. As part of the screenwriting and promotion for the film, a backstory for the technology was made, including a spoof website for "Lacuna, Inc." which is the source for the following information.

Though the procedure in the movie is fictional, recent research has shown it is possible to successfully erase selective memories in lab mice. Such a procedure may lead to cures of post-traumatic stress.

Depictions of the memories

Throughout the film we see a wide range of film techniques used to depict both the destruction of Joel's memories as well as his transitions from one to another. These range from quite subtle to extremely dramatic:

  • The picture quality and sound resolution of the memory simply deteriorate (one example being when Joel talks with his neighbor in the lobby of their apartment building).

  • Subtle details fade from view (examples of this being when Clementine's name fades away from the Lacuna postcard that Joel has in his hand or when the books in the Barnes and Noble gradually turn white).

  • In one case, time and perspective seem to "loop" (the scene where Joel tries to make up with Clementine after she stormed out of his apartment, Joel finds himself unable to get from one end of the street to another – this also combines the elimination of details such as the displays of stores. Also in this scene, we repeatedly see reflections of the lamp in Joel's apartment floating in the air).

  • Overt disintegration of the memories (examples of this include the car falling from the sky, the disappearance of a car that Joel and Clementine are in, the disappearance of a fence, a scene where they run through a train station with the people there "winking out," and perhaps most elaborately, the falling apart of the beach house that Joel and Clementine were in).

  • Cycling between the adult actors and their younger selves (when Joel recalls a humiliating memory of being forced by bullies to hit a dead bird with a hammer, the footage switches back and forth between young actors playing Joel and Clementine and Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey. Joel is apparently able to visualize Clementine's youthful appearance because he had seen a picture of her as that when they were still together).

  • Scenes of the movie use a trompe-l'œil (or forced perspective) effect, enabling the actors to be seen by the audience as life-sized, yet their characters are existing in a smaller world. (Examples are when Joel and Clementine are in the kitchen sink, or when Joel hides from his mother and a neighbor/Clementine under the table in his memory as a child.)

Frames of reference

There were numerous frames of reference in Eternal Sunshine. One was reality, shown in the group of scenes at the beginning and end of the movie that take place just before, on, and after Valentine's Day. The rest of the scenes could be broadly classified as taking place in Joel's memory, but these can be subdivided into:

  1. Memories that Joel gets to relive as if they were really happening (e.g., the date on the frozen Charles River).
  2. Memories in which Joel narrates in a voiceover (e.g., the "dining dead" meal).
  3. Memories which Joel watches take place and with which he can and does interact.
  4. Memories in which Joel is a participant but can "break character" and change the way the scene turns out.
  5. Memories in which Joel relives various moments of his childhood with Clementine in the place of one of the people in the memory.
  6. Memories where Joel watches them unfold as if they were on a television screen (his conversation with Frank in the lobby of his building)
  7. Memories that had been erased and lingered on in a degraded form (e.g., the faceless beings in the Lacuna offices).

Some events that actually took place during Joel's erasure (i.e. technicians Stan and Patrick's conversation about Patrick's stealing Clementine's panties) bleed through to memories Joel is reliving.

Throughout the film, a useful indicator for when a particular event is taking place is Clementine's hair color. Any time she is shown with blue hair indicates something in the present or a memory from the recent past (from about the time of the couple's disengagement). Clementine has green hair during the couple's first encounter, and shortly changes it to red when they become romantically involved. She then changes her hair color to 'tangerine' orange as their disengagement nears.


Kaufman made it very clear in an interview included with the published shooting script, that the story ended with the final scene of Joel and Clementine in the hallway, in which they appeared to have agreed to give their relationship one more try. He said it was up to individual members of the audience to decide what would have ultimately happened. This "unfinished" resolution of the story is foreshadowed by the following dialogue in the scene where Joel relives the memory of approaching Clementine at the bookstore where she worked after they first met at the beach party:

There is debate as to what the repeated scene of Joel and Clem playing in the snow right before the credits means. In an interview also included with the published shooting script, Gondry said he wanted the scene of them playing in the snow to loop throughout the credits. This desire apparently sprang from the initial intent (expressed in an early script) that Joel and Clementine spent the rest of their lives meeting, falling in and out of love, getting their memories erased, and then repeating the cycle. However, Gondry said that this was not done, because it would ultimately detract from the credits.

In addition, several photo-stills that were from footage that wound up on the cutting room floor show Joel and Clementine sitting together on the steps to Joel's building with their arms around each other (and dressed in the same clothes that they wore in the hallway scene). It is unclear whether these were pictures taken for promotional purposes or from footage cut from the final scene at Joel's apartment.

Deleted and moved scenes

The shooting script — which has been published as a book (ISBN 1-55704-610-7) — and early drafts contain a fair amount of material that was either left on the cutting room floor or never shot.

A major change that came in editing was that the sequence of scenes where Joel and Clementine are shown (re)meeting in Montauk and then going to the Charles River got moved from near the end of the movie to the beginning. According to the Kaufman interview published with the shooting script, this was done to make sure the audience liked Clementine, as without it, their initial impression of her, based upon scenes from the end of Joel and Clem's first relationship, might have been too negative.

Dropped scenes included dialogue on the train, dialogue in Clementine's apartment, scenes with Joel and Naomi (the girlfriend he had before Clementine, portrayed by Ellen Pompeo), Joel in the Lacuna office describing his negative feelings about Clementine in more detail, and scenes showing Joel and Clementine on their first "date". The dialogue from the deleted Lacuna office scene is used later, when he is listening to a tape of himself describing Clementine's personality flaws, and brief moments of the cut scene showing their first "date" are mixed in with the jumble of memories Joel sees of Clementine as the erasure process comes to an end. In fact, much of the content of the film was moved around in editing. A fair amount of scenes were changed on-the-spot by director Michel Gondry, including scenes showing the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in the streets of Manhattan. Another dropped scene was one that took place in a bar where a very drunk Clementine tried to make Joel jealous by coming onto another man (which might have prompted Joel's claim in his taped interview with Mierzwiak that Clementine was very promiscuous). Another deleted scene that appears in the special two-disc DVD set is an extended scene in the doctor's office when Mary Svevo is listening to the tape of her file. Mary is saying in the tape why she should have the procedure done, especially after having to get an abortion. Yet another showed Joel and Clementine reading the mystery novel "The Red Right Hand" together on his couch (which is the novel we see Clementine reading in the diner at Montauk where she and Joel (re)meet for the first time.

Awards and recognition

Kaufman, Gondry, and Bismuth won the 2004 Academy Award for best original screenplay for Eternal Sunshine. Winslet was also nominated for best actress but lost to Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

It was nominated for and has won various other awards, including:

Critical reception

The movie has a 93% certified fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website based on 211 reviews. The consensus is that the film is "a twisty, trippy, yet moving take on love, Kaufman-style."

Roger Ebert commented, "Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, Eternal Sunshine has an emotional center, and that's what makes it work."

Time Out summed up their review by saying, "the formidable Gondry/ Kaufman/Carrey axis works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one's own addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart."

In 2006, in issue 201 of Empire magazine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was voted #83 in their 201 Greatest Movies of All Time poll as voted for by the readers.

Kate Winslet's performance as Clementine was included in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time at #81. Claudia Puig, reviewer of USA Today said about her performance that "Winslet is wonderful as a free spirit whose hair color changes along with her moods. She hasn't had such a meaty role in a while, and she plays it just right."

In 2007, critic site Rotten Tomatoes dubbed it the #2 on a list of top Sci-Fi films.

The film was number 38 in movies for Entertainment Weekly's New Classic list.

Carol Vernallis points out that Gondry's experience in directing music videos contributed in the film's mise-en-scene and sound design. Vernallis describes some threads of the visual, aural and musical motifs through out the film, and how some motifs can work in counterpoint.

Music and soundtrack

The soundtrack album for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released by Hollywood Records on March 16, 2004.

The score was composed by Los Angelesmarker musician Jon Brion. Other songs featured are from artists such as Jeff Lynne's E.L.O. ("Mr. Blue Sky" was featured in trailers and television spots but not used in the film), The Polyphonic Spree, The Willowz, and Don Nelson. Beck, in a collaboration with Jon Brion, provides a cover version of the Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime".

Notably, many of the vocal songs either revolve around memories or the sun.

During the scene where Clementine enters Joel's apartment finding Joel listening to the tape about Clementine while staring at the skeleton painting of Clementine, the underscore is a poignant arrangement of "Oh My Darling Clementine." The harmonic voicings are such where the melody is clear up until the point of the line "you are lost and gone forever," where the arranger opted for use of dramatic diminished chords in the harmony thereby understating the fact that the two are gone and lost forever having no memory of each other.

Three filmi songs from old Hindi movies can be heard playing in the background. "Mera Man Tera Pyaasa" (My heart is thirsting for you) from the movie Gambler (1971) performed by Mohammed Rafi, "Tera Sang Pyaar Mein" performed by Lata Mangeshkar, and "Wada Na Tod" (Break not the promise) by Lata Mangeshkar from the movie Dil Tujhko Diya (Gave my heart to you) (when Clementine invites Joel to her apartment for a drink). All the three songs are listed in the original soundtrack credits.

The musical score from the film's opening scenes have also been used in television and cinema adverts in the UK for mobile phone company Vodafone.

Music relating to the movie

Many bands have referenced the movie in song, including Breaking Benjamin in their song "Forget it", Bayside in the song "Montauk", OAR in the song Love and Memories, Backseat Goodbye in the song "Technicolor Eyes", Christmas Fuller Project in the song "Meet Me in Montauk", The Autumns in the song "Clem", and Circa Survive in the song "Meet Me in Montauk" as well as several other songs on their 2005 album, Juturna. Rapper Jay Electronica sampled songs from the soundtrack on his song, "Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)." Your Ex-lover is Dead by Stars is also a reference to the movie, and the video to the song is also reminiscent of the film due to the band performing laying down on an iced over lake. Vienna Teng has said that her song "Recessional" was inspired by the movie.

Ryan Star's "Losing Your Memory," from the album Songs from the Eye of an Elephant, includes the lyrics "I wake in Montauk with you near." In the context of the song, it is a clear reference to the film.

Film setting and locations

The film is set largely in the Long Island suburb of Rockville Centremarker, in Montauk, Long Islandmarker, and in New York Citymarker.

According to the end credits, it was filmed in and around Brooklynmarker, Manhattanmarker, Montaukmarker, Mount Vernonmarker, Wainscottmarker, and Yonkersmarker, New Yorkmarker; also Bayonnemarker and West Orangemarker, New Jerseymarker. The Barnes and Noble scenes were filmed at the Columbia University Bookstore. Some of the scenes in Yonkers were filmed along Riverdale Ave and Valentine Ln. Also, the Charles River scene was filmed at FDR State Park in Yorktown, New York.

All of the train scenes were shot aboard a Metro-North Railroad train along the New Haven Line, and the Mount Vernon Eastmarker train station substituted for the Rockville Centre stationmarker.

Home video

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is available in the U.S. in separate anamorphic widescreen and full screen editions as of September 28, 2004. Both widescreen and full screen editions carry English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English DTS 5.1 Surround and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.

It is available as a one disc Widescreen Collector's Edition worldwide. Bonus features included on this disc is:
  • A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Step into the mind of the filmmakers in this behind-the-scenes look at Eternal
  • A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry — Witness an unparalleled discussion between Jim Carrey and Michal Gondry as they reflect on their favorite moments from the making of the film
  • Feature Commentary with Michel Gondry and Writer Charlie Kaufman
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video
  • Lacuna Infomercial

A special 2-disc widescreen Collector's Edition DVD was released in the U.S. on January 4, 2005. Bonus features include:
  • Award Winning Screenplay Book
  • Feature Commentary with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman
  • A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Michel Gondry
  • A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry
  • A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
  • Deleted/ Extended Scenes
  • Anatomy of a Scene with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry
  • The Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video
  • Lacuna Infomercial

The film was released on HD DVD on April 24, 2007. Its bonus features consist of:
  • A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
    • Step into the mind of the filmmakers in this behind-the-scenes look at Eternal Sunshine.
  • Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes
  • A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry
    • The star and director reflect on their favorite on-set moments.
  • A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Director Michel Gondry
  • Inside the mind of Director Michel Gondry
  • Feature Commentary with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue
  • Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video
  • Deleted / Extended Scenes
  • Lacuna Commercial

See also


  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The Shooting Script (Newmarket Shooting Script Series): Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry: Books
  2. Rotten Tomatoes, Main Page of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reviews
  3. :: :: Reviews :: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (xhtml)
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind movie review - Film - Time Out London
  5. Puig, Claudia, 2006. USA Today, Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  6. Vernallis, Carol. "Music video, songs, sound: experience, technique and emotion in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Screen. 49.3. (2008) pp.277-97.

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