The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

Bucknell Board of Trustees approves tuition increase
Four Bucknellians chosen for 2023-24 Fulbright U.S. Student Program
Midterm Madness: Exams or Papers?
Men’s Lacrosse defeats Dartmouth 15-13

Men’s Lacrosse defeats Dartmouth 15-13

February 23, 2024

Be Honest: How are you really doing?

Be Honest: How are you really doing?

February 23, 2024

“Young, Gifted and Black”: Black Arts Fest 2024

“Young, Gifted and Black”: Black Arts Fest 2024

February 23, 2024

View All

A beautiful tragedy: What makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind rewatchable twenty years later

To someone without extensive knowledge of 18th-century poetry, “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind” may seem like an arbitrary title for a movie. A first-time viewer would probably not really know what to expect. On its almost 20th birthday, here’s an almost spoiler-free review of Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for those new to the film and for those who want to revisit it.

The movie centers around a series of key moments in a developing relationship between Clementine Kruczynski, played by Kate Winslet, and Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey, spanning from when they first meet to when they go their separate ways.

Well, kind of. To cope with the pain of their breakup, the couple agrees to a futuristic procedure that erases their memories of each other. What unfolds is a romantic drama, but through deft use of sci-fi and chase movie elements and tropes, it both complicates and augments the genre.

In subsequent years, highly acclaimed films and series (“Everything, Everywhere, All at Once;” “Severance;” “Black Mirror”) strapped lovers to roller coasters of techno-altered memories, time bends and fluid realities, posing critical questions about our ever-increasing reliance on machines and medicine. What sets “Eternal Sunshine” apart from the productions that have followed in its footsteps is its sincerity, rooted in simple but beautiful dialogue.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s very deeply human—you never get the sense that these aren’t conversations between very real people—but it still has the grace and poetry of the finest films in the romantic drama and romantic comedy catalogs. Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-winning screenplay illustrates, as well as I’ve ever seen, that less can amount to more, with some of the most powerful lines a mere sentence. Gondry’s camera positions the viewer as a fly on a wall witnessing a bona fide relationship between two people, eavesdropping on simple conversations that convey more meaning than some films do in their totality.

Joel and Clementine are genuine. They make mistakes that we can all relate to and learn lessons that we’ve all learned, whether we know it or not. You see yourself in their characters’ quirks and insecurities. Even if the memory-erasing machine thrusts them into extraordinary circumstances, the protagonists are ordinary people. They are not in existential struggles with bots, aliens or supernatural infections but rather unfulfilling relationships, distrust and self-doubt.

The overwhelming feelings that I am left with as the end credits roll on “Eternal Sunshine” are dread and heartbreak. It’s still difficult for me, even on repeat viewings, to not view the hysterical laugh that Joel and Clementine share at the end of the film as an acceptance that they’re doomed. That at least in this lifetime, they were always meant to break each other’s hearts. And to this day, I don’t disagree; I think the two of them, regardless of how many clean slates they might be given, were always going to burn out. Eventually, Clementine would grow bored of what Joel is, and Joel would always come to fear what the ever-unpredictable Clementine could do next.

Then, when the end credits are complete, something magical happens: in a matter of seconds, dread and heartbreak give way to awe. What makes Clem and Joel’s a beautiful relationship is not what it will amount to. It’s what it was in the moment, a moment I share with them each time I watch the film. The splendor of their bond is that individuals who will always come to hate each other share these memories where they had never been more content or more in love. In these happier times, you see the cracks, the brewing distrust and resentment. Deep affection is so well written and performed, planted with seeds of the heartbreak to come, it’s a powerful brew. It is ironic and tragic that something so hopeful can exist in lockstep with something so wretched. And it is the presentation of such powerful and contradictory emotions existing together in perpetuity, that makes “Eternal Sunshine” high art and eminently rewatchable.

We’re all full of virtue and tragedy, big and small, and this duality is so intertwined that, as Joel learns, to lose the bad memories and moments would mean the loss of the good ones, too. The very fact we’re so complex and flawed must mean we are indeed beautiful because existing with all that dichotomy is what makes us as humans unique. Living beyond and learning from our worst moments is where we as humans get to demonstrate our strength and in that strength our beauty. What makes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” a beautiful tragedy is that it reminds us that to be human is to experience it all and that in itself is quite magnificent.

(Visited 174 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The editorial board of The Bucknellian reserves the right to review all comments before they are posted on the website and remove any if deemed offensive, illegal or in bad taste. Comments left on our web pages are not necessarily in-line with the views expressed by the writer.
All The Bucknellian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *