We’ve all lamented after a crushing breakup: “I wish I had never met them.” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is dedicated to those dealing with the type of heartbreak that makes it too painful to reminisce on past memories. Protagonist Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) decides to undergo a mind-altering procedure that would completely erase his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), from his memories after he finds out that Clementine has already erased him from hers. In a nonlinear fashion, the audience observes the couple find their way back to each other in real time while also traipsing through the past two years of the couple’s history, from their meet-cute at a beach barbecue to the final fight that ended their relationship. Intertwined with the main storyline is a story arc revolving around Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the receptionist of the mind-erasing firm, technician Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and their boss, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), that reaffirms the film’s question — if you could erase someone from your mind, even if it meant losing blissful moments but no longer suffering over the loss, would you do it?
The film’s nonlinear sci-fi narrative is what differentiates the movie from other romantic comedies. Joel and Clementine’s relationship troubles are startlingly ordinary: Joel doesn’t quite want as big a commitment as Clementine yet, and Clementine is constantly
annoyed by Joel’s eccentricities. However, their decision to undergo such an extreme procedure brings to light how fickle fate is and how precious memories become once we are threatened with their destruction. Coincidentally, the two connect again only a day after Joel’s procedure; unfortunately, Mary decides to send tapes of their erasures to every patient, and Joel and Clementine hear the most intimate and disparaging information about each other. Armed with the information about what ultimately tears them apart, the couple decides to get back together nevertheless. What makes “Eternal Sunshine” so intriguing is that it is up to the audience to decide whether the couple is doomed, but more importantly, whether the question of their fate is fruitless anyway. The film sets up the final scene so the audience is able to understand that it may be better to live with the pain of a romance gone wrong if you eventually get to reminisce about the special moments you shared.
It’s no wonder “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” has become a cult classic and named No. 6 on BBC’s list of the 100 best films of the 21st century. The wisdom in this stripped down film is hard to ignore and only made more enjoyable by the realistic, vibrant characters and melancholy soundtrack. Even now, the romance still resonates with those reveling in the agony and affection of a lost love.