Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a difficult film to review. To begin with, it’s hard to pin down precisely what genre it falls under. It’s comic, there are science-fiction elements, a dash of romance, but it’s almost impossible to say where it should be. If I was a clerk at Blockbusters, then I’d add placing Eternal Sunshine in the aisles to my list of reasons for suicide.

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most complicated film to review on this top 10 list. The Descent hinted at ambiguity, Daisy deliberately mixed up the narrative order for a different point of view, and WALL-E and Tsotsi followed a straightforward linear chronological narrative. Eternal Sunshine is a torturous labyrinth. It hops around chronologically (we meet the characters in what could arguably be said to be the last third of the film), a huge amount of it takes place inside Joel’s head, and there are other intermittent interludes with the supporting cast. I could reduce it to a chronology, but that would be cheating, and half the pleasure of the film comes from allowing it to unfold in its own way.

So, therefore, I’m not going to distil the plot in this review. Instead, I’m going to briefly summarise why I think that this film is one of the best of the decade. Most of the films I’ve picked have, through sheer coincidence, been centred in human but not necessarily romantic relationships. Eternal Sunshine is based on the premise “what if you could erase the memory of a failed relationship?”.  It charts this process, albeit in an ostensibly random (even if it is nothing of the sort) fashion, of one man’s deletion. All the action does, in theory, take place over 24 hours, but as we are delving through Joel’s memories, the timescale is significantly longer than that.

When we are first introduced to Joel he has had an irresistable urge to take the day off work. He meets a suspiciously dyed woman called Clementine, and they hit it off. However, there’s a nagging sense of Deja-vu at work with them. The film then starts jumping back and forth between Lacuna Inc (the memory erasing company), the night of the erasing, Joel’s memories, and the present. However, despite this, it never feels confusing. Rather each element unfolds naturally and each moment adds to our empathy with the character. He’s a sad sack, to be sure, and he’s sort of pathetic, but most of these moments add to our understanding of how he came to be such a sad sack.

Jim Carrey is ordinarily an actor that annoys me intensely. However, I saw the Truman Show and thought he was absolutely outstanding. This film confirms that when he isn’t mugging and gurning like a 9 year old, he’s actually a good actor with decent range. It was a superb casting choice, all things considered, as his everyman looks fit the persona brilliantly, and when he tones down his acting, he is more than capable of adding real pathos to the character. Kate Winslet, an actress that stars in films that I invariably hate, is also superb in this- she acts as a great foil for Carrey, and if anything, Clementine is a more extrovert character than Joel. The other support includes Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo who are all good, with the exception of Wood, who is excellent as a creepy little stalker.

The writing from the consistently excellent Charlie Kaufman is top drawer. There are some superb exchanges between Joel and Clementine, the script is laced with great lines (“Technically what we’re doing is brain damage”) and the concluding scene with Joel listening to the tape he made describing the break up is legitimately heart-rending. Kaufman wants us to be in no doubt that we are the sum of our experiences, and to erase any memory, no matter how painful, is both futile and counterintuitive. Sure, it may be the easier option, but it diminishes us as people.

Michel Gondry may now be heading towards “disappointment” territory, what with having followed this jewel with the lackluster Science of Sleep and the frankly terrible Be Kind, Rewind, but this, his second film, is a majestic effort. It may be, a case of the right people being in the right place at the right time, but there are touches of visual flair that add to the experience rather than overwhelming it.

Overall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a superb film. It’s excellent on all critical levels, and so much more than the sum of its’ parts. Each individual contribution adds to the overall feel of the film, and although it may appear to be light and quirky it isn’t anything of the sort. It’s a philosophical film that poses questions on what makes us us, and supplies the answer that it believes is the correct one. I honestly cannot recommend this film enough.

Next up, Shane Meadows outstanding but depressing This is England.

Until then,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

32 responses to “Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

  1. Droid says :

    I think I need to watch this again. It was very good, but I don’t remember it as fondly as you.

    Carrey is a terrific actor in the right role.

    I can barely stand Winslet.

    I agree that this may be Gondry’s career defining film as it doesn’t seem that his next ones going to be a masterpiece.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s a bitch to review anyway.

      Gondry is getting worse with every film. To be honest.

      • Droid says :

        I can imagine. It’s especially hard to keep writing positive reviews without sounding like you’re repeating yourself. It’s the one trouble I’m having completing mine. I feel like I need to watch a bunch of garbage to counteract the quality.

      • Jarv says :

        I know. I’m really suffering from it.

        Luckily, I’ve only got 5 left and they’re all completely different.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve almost finished #15. That leaves 14 to go!?!?!? Fuck me. I did bite off more than I can chew with this one.

      • Jarv says :

        Yeah. I’m glad I did it regionally- because then I could do the capsule reviews for most of them and review what I think are the best 10 properly.

        Not an easy task.

  2. Droid says :

    By the way, I didn’t realise they’d invented motion picture cameras in the year 200.

  3. Jarv says :


    Shit. Curse my crappy proof reading


  4. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    Well done Jarv. I have enjoyed immensely starting off my days reading your top ten lists. And this top ten is all over the place which I love. A man of varied tastes.

    • Jarv says :

      Thanks very much.

      It was funny, but when I went to approach this, I struggled to work out how to do it. I thought of doing a top 20 ish like Droid, but Jonah’s regional thing worked well for me- it got me actually thinking about what I think are the 10 best films of the decade.

      All ten of these are, I believe, damned near flawless- and I’m relatively pleased that they all seem to be different films. A depressing lack of sci-fi and horror though, which is surprising seeing as I watch more of them than anything else.

      • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

        Have you seen Moon or District 9 yet Jarv? I’m convinced you’ll like both. Maybe not enough to make your list but I think the decade ended exceptionally well for sci-fi.

      • Jarv says :

        Yes to District 9 and it narrowly missed out on my Best of list for the US- I may cheat and put it in under Africa and South America as I’m coming back to that one because I’ve got another 2 to add to it anyway.

        I mentioned Avatar in that one, so it has ended well, but really, I can’t think of many good ones, whereas I can think of fecking thousands of good dramas.

        It ended well, and hopefully 2010-2019 will keep this up- I don’t want to be here in a decade’s time having the same whinge.

      • koutchboom says :

        I wonder how Moon will play out at home. But I saw it in a completely empty theater…if that doesn’t make me love the movie I don’t think anything will?

      • Droid says :

        I watched Moon at home for the first time. Great flick. Terrific performance by Rockwell.

        I suspect Jarv will like it also. He’d be foolish not to.

      • Jarv says :

        It does sound like something that I’m predisposed to like. If that has any relevance.

  5. koutchboom says :

    My problem with this movie is just that, anyone could have directed it.

  6. koutchboom says :

    I think I really need to watch this again. Because the first time I saw it I loved it. The second time I saw it I was bored with it.

  7. koutchboom says :

    I still think my favorite Gondry film is Human Nature. Also for me nothing tops Carry’s Trueman Show performence.

  8. Jarv says :

    Agreed. Nothing tops that Truman show performance.

    That’s one of my favourite films.

    Eternal Sunshine is much better than Human Nature.

  9. Lord Bronco says :

    Oh holy crap-I watched City Of God-wow, know *that* was a movie!!! Thanks for whoever recommended it-I’d go on and on, but the interesting thing was how as a viewing participant, I started getting used to the insane violence…among many other things

  10. Jarv says :

    City of God is a fucking monster Bronco.

    If you liked that, then I recommend finding Tropa De Elite- which is about Rio’s BOPE squad and is also fucking brutal.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Surprise, surprise, not seen it. The main reason for that being Jim Carrey; I can’t stand the bloke.

    I have heard from others he’s better when serious but I’m wary of crossing that bridge.

  12. Jarv says :

    Carrey- See The Truman Show, and this.

    Avoid almost anything else he’s done.

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