The Quarantine Stream: 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is Either Bleak or Hopeful, but It's a Masterpiece Either Way

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Joel (Jim Carrey) is stunned to discover that his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), has had their tumultuous relationship erased from her mind. Out of desperation, he contacts the inventor of the facility who took care of the procedure to get the same treatment. But as his memories of Clementine are erased from his, Joel suddenly realizes how much he still loves her, and he’ll do anything to hide her away in his mind so they can find each other again.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: For such a high concept, you’d assume Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would require plenty of visual effects for the story to play out inside the mind of our main character Joel. But instead, imaginative director Michael Gondry, working from a brilliant script by Charlie Kaufman, uses a variety of clever practical effects and simple camera tricks to tell the story of this troubled relationship that once started as a promising romance. It’s one of the most honest and raw portrayals of love, and how you view the ending just might help you learn something about yourself.

What’s so captivating about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is how it tells the love story at the center of the movie in reverse. In fact, we see Joel and Clementine meeting for the second time before we ever see the first time they met, but if you somehow haven’t watched the movie before, you’ll have to see how that plays out yourself. We watch Joel’s memories of Clementine unfold from their recent troubles back to their very first encounter. As the process of erasing the memories continues, Joel realizes that he wants the procedure to stop, taking us on a journey through his mind, even back into childhood memories where Joel hopes he can hold on to Clementime for just a little bit longer. The way this is executed is sometimes whimsical and charming, and other times horrifying and unsettling. It makes for a real emotional roller coaster, especially as little moments of Jim Carrey’s zany behavior occasionally pop up.

However, the biggest tugs at our heartstrings come in the film’s ending. Without spoiling the ultimate conclusion, the audience is left to wonder whether this repeated relationship is fueled by the fate of true love, or if these two are doomed to repeat their mistakes as long as they continue to hold onto the memories of each other instead of moving on. Whichever your perspective is at the end, it says less about the story itself and more about your perspective on love and where you find yourself in life. It might just be something that changes each time you watch it, and that’s part of its quiet brilliance.

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