Why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Is My Most Personal Film
When people ask me about my favorite movies of all time, I can easily rattle off any number of great films, many of which are interchangeable depending on my mood and memory recall at the time. And while being asked about a film that is personal to me seems like an ever-so-slightly different question, it's a considerably more difficult answer for me to pin down. As I pondered which film would singularly represent my taste in movies, I was paralyzed by indecision. Not because I did not know which film to choose; only one work ever entered my mind. Rather, I was concerned about what my choice would say about me. "Does this make me sound pretentious?"..."Do I really have no better answer than this?"..."Do I really want to talk about an embarrassingly impressionable time in my life?"... but here we are, and I must be honest. Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the film that still resonates with me on so many different levels, even as I've evolved as a person. Here's why.
My Connection to the Cast
As a lanky, outspoken child growing up in the early 90's with dreams of becoming an actor, I naturally consumed a steady diet of Jim Carrey movies. My parents were fans of In Living Color, particularly Carrey's turn as Fire Marshall Bill, and so I was exposed to Jim's manic, hyperphysical, laughs-at-any-cost style at an early age. I idolized Carrey after wearing out our VHS copies of Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. At 10, I even bought Batman Forever from the used-for-sale section of my local video store, disguised as a Father's Day gift for my Dad. His reception to being the new owner of the second-worst Batman movie of all time was lukewarm at best, but if it meant that I got to see my favorite actor inhabit the world of one of my favorite superheroes again and again, I was happy to shroud my thinly veiled agenda in a disappointing Father's Day present (sorry Dad). Jim Carrey was the backbone of my comedic sensibilities, and though my affection for him has since waned, I will always appreciate the memories I have of sharing my obsessive fandom with my family and reciting whole scenes from my favorite Carrey movies around the house.
Smash cut to 1997; I was 12 when Titanic hit theaters. My love for that movie is well-documented online, so I'll spare you my long-winded defense of that film. I was taken not only with the epic blockbuster and its equally notorious production, but I was also smitten by Kate Winslet. Many will remember the infamous sketch scene that made the MPAA blush; call it juvenile, but female nudity in a PG-13 movie for a 12-year-old before the ubiquitous availability of the internet was enough for me to fall for Ms. Winslet during my coming-of-age. I would later appreciate Kate Winslet for her acting prowess in The Life of David Gale, but it's important to note that she, along with Claire Forlani, were my late 90's crushes.
The Timing of My First Viewing
18-year-old Me would have told you that my taste in movies (and Father's Day gift-giving) had matured by the time I hit college in the early 2000's. I proudly displayed my DVD collection at my apartment throughout school, with Fight Club, The Matrix, and Requiem for a Dream as crown jewels to start conversations. "Dude, you haven't seen Requiem?! Bro, you've gotta see it!". Ahhh, college.
High-concept sci-fi, mindfuck thrillers, and pitch black comedies were my cup of tea then. If the plot featured time travel, even better. Any movie that welcomed you to chew on it afterward, or incited debate, or featured gotta-talk-about-it endings... those were at the top of my list.
Separate but related, I was still reeling from my first big breakup in 2003. I was (and still am) a passionate individual, and I had a flair for being especially dramatic back then, when I thought the world revolved around me, and so I wasn't taking the breakup well, despite the best wishes of my ex. It was one of the ones where it engulfed my every thought, my friends were sick of hearing me talk about it, and I didn't know how I would ever recover. I was lovesick and heartbroken.
Enter Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Aside from the great title, the trailer featured the bouncy "Mr. Blueskys" from Electric Light Orchestra. "What's this?", I thought. "A high-concept romantic comedy featuring a time-travel-esque plot starring two of my favorite people from childhood?! I'M IN!" I shook my funk long enough to make my way to the theater.
The film was not what I expected, yet it somehow exceeded my every expectation. Career-best performances from Carrey and Winslet; who knew they would have such good bad chemistry? Add wacky and brilliant direction from Michel Gondry to a poignant and hilarious story, with moments that rang achingly true, penned by the genius Charlie Kaufman, and it was the exact tonic I needed to pick myself up and start processing my current situation in a healthy way.
What was I so affected by?
I found the story to be so beautiful. A man who, out of spite for his ex, decides to erase her from his memory, only to fall in love with her all over again as he makes his way backwards in time and the most recent memories fade, giving way to nostalgia for what he loved about her in the first place. As he changes his mind about her, he desperately tries to hide her in unrelated parts of his brain until he can wake up to patch things up with her in the morning. I was absolutely floored by the intelligence and originality of the story, as well as Carrey's remarkably quiet performance, juxtaposed with Winslet's loud, perfect imperfectness. I emerged from my viewing (and the subsequent ones) refreshed, baptized in a Joie de Vivre that was much needed at the time. It got me over the hump of a laughably dramatic period in my life was nevertheless excruciating to me personally.
What does it mean to me now?
I look back at Eternal Sunshine now and find it comical that it had such a positive effect on me. In fact, I completely misread the film! I must have took what I needed from it and repressed what remained, because I now see Eternal Sunshine as an incredibly ballsy anti-romance that I respect and appreciate just as much now, but for different reasons. I was completely ignorant to the emotionally complex and utterly dire undercurrent of Eternal Sunshine in my younger days. What I took as a happy ending in 2004 I now read over a decade later as a gut-punch.
My relationship with Eternal Sunshine has grown and evolved as I've grown and evolved as a person unlike any other film I can think of; it was the perfect intersection of casting, subject matter, and timing of release, and I absolutely cherish it for that. It perfectly encapsulates my taste in film, even as it changes.
And that is why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind means more to me than any other film.