Scattered thoughts about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Charles, Elkins and I watched “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” last week. This is the third time I’ve seen this movie, which I love – I love all the Charlie Kaufman movies I’ve seen – but the first time that I wasn’t totally exhausted and fighting not to doze off, so there was new material.

Some scattered thoughts:

  • It’s a science fiction movie with no violence and no scenes in which any character is physically endangered. Watching this movie, you’d almost think that science fiction can be about playing with ideas, instead of about action scenes. Is that even legal?
  • Yet another movie that can’t pass the Mo Movie Measure – at no point in this movie do two women talk to each other. (There is a brief moment when Kate Winslet’s character has a two-second exchange with Jim Carrey’s memory of his mother, but I don’t think that counts, since the mother isn’t a real character.)
  • I think that if this selective-memory-wiping technology really existed, couples would use it to purposely do what the two main characters of Eternal Sunshine did accidentally – wipe the memory of each other out of their minds not to break up, but to be able to experience the giddy infatuation stage again. (I mentioned this to Elkins, who said that she thinks Robert Sheckley might have written that idea into a story at some point. It certainly sounds like a Sheckley idea).
  • I really enjoyed Elijah Wood’s character, who is a type of misogynist creep you occasionally encounter in real life, but who isn’t usually presented as a creep in the movies – The Guy Who Believes The World Owes Him A Girlfriend.
  • Favorite quote:
    Joel: Is there any risk of brain damage?
    Doctor: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage.
  • The movie producers made a website for Lacuna Inc. Cute.
  • Both Kate Winslet and Tom Wilkinson are British but do perfect American accents. You see this a lot nowadays – I wonder if “American accent training” techniques have gotten much better in the last decade or so. I miss bad American accents – remember John Cleese’s American waiter in “The Meaning of Life”?
  • Isn’t Kate Winslet the actress with the rep for being zaftig? That’s ridiculous – she’s a tiny thing.
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18 Responses to Scattered thoughts about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  1. 1
    Jake Squid says:

    Isn’t Kate Winslet the actress with the rep for being zaftig? That’s ridiculous – she’s a tiny thing.

    Not that I’m aware of. Are you, perhaps, thinking of Renee Zellweger?

  2. 2
    Sarah says:

    Kate Winslet was in Titanic and Finding Neverland, if that helps. She is famously “curvy”, which of course doesn’t mean she’s anywhere close to fat, but she’s not painfully thin either.

  3. 3
    Jake Squid says:

    She is famously “curvy”…

    Then I guess I’m wrong. Famously curvy translates to zaftig in pop-culture speak. And, wow, I never would’a thunk it.

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    I mentioned this to Elkins, who said that she thinks Robert Sheckley might have written that idea into a story at some point. It certainly sounds like a Sheckley idea)

    Elkins is thinking of Sheckley’s short story about love. I forget the title, but the premise was that love has become a business like any other. People seek out love, but not commitment over the long term, because that would be, you know, boringly conservative. The love company hires women (and men, too, presumably) to be available to fall in love, uses technology to set romantic scenes and create the ambiences that will help the couples fall in love, and then uses memory-wipe technology to “reset” the employee after the client gets bored.

    And “Eternal Sunshine” was a heck of a good movie.

  5. 5
    jam says:

    i know it’s not the kind of violence you were referring to (space explosions & carnivorous aliens, etc.) but one of the central moments of the movie is his return to the memory where he smashes a bird with a hammer until it dies because of bullying peer pressure, & is then abused by the other kids when he starts crying about it.

    not super-violent perhaps to our adult eyes, tragically accustomed to all manner of obscenity & horror, but to a child such moments can be terrifying, even traumatic – the violence literally haunting them their entire lives (as obviously, it was with Joel).

    and yes, it is a fucking amazing, inspiring & beautiful movie.

    one of the more amazing things about the movie for me was the level of “celebrity effacement” all the actors were able to achieve – in other words, after only a brief period of screen time i wasn’t watching Jim Carey anymore, i was watching Joel Barish, Kate Winslet disappeared & suddenly Clementine was the only person she ever was, Frodo turned into icko Patrick, etc.

    i know what i’m watching (again) tonight.

  6. 6
    vacasmagras says:

    I love that movie. I don’t think of it as a Charlie Kaufman movie so much as Michel Gondry movie. I am a total Gondry fan and recommend his music videos for those who enjoyed this movie. Our local video store (local = Berkeley, CA) has the dvd’s for rent. Plus, they’re pretty cheap on Amazon.

    Kate Winslet did have a rep for being chubby, which was ridiculous. Next thing you know, she’ll be starring in a Dove commercial! (This week’s Newsweek has a 2 page American Express ad featuring Kate and her bare foot.)

  7. 7
    Crys T says:

    Winslet, though of course never anywhere near fat, did used to be noticeably larger than she has been over the past few years. Until of course all the media hysteria over her “excess” flesh led her to lose weight to a Hollywood-acceptable level.

    The only film that comes to mind from her “heavy” days is Hideous Kinky.

  8. 8
    Radfem says:

    I think she’s more hour-glass curvy than the straight arrow shape actresses you see now, in large part because of the pressure to be thin. Though I did read that she practically starved herself when she did Titanic.

    The entertainment industry is horrible to women, in many ways, especially now, with the skinny-is-in thing. Anything over 100lbs is “fat”. Marilyn Monroe would be obese and sent to a spa to take it off, in one week.

  9. 9
    Sassafras says:

    I love that movie.

    I also used to love Kate Winslet, until I googled her and found that she’s opposed to feminism. Thinks it’s stupid. She’ s one of these young’uns who think feminists are hairy-legged martinets who should shut up. I still like her acting, but she’s an idiot.

  10. 10
    Nick Fagerlund says:

    Re: Yank accents: You know, NPR actually did a piece this summer about an American accent school for people (foreign nationals, mostly) trying to make it in Hollywood. Damned if I can remember most of the content, but I found it interesting. I definitely got the impression that this is now a highly researched and high-stakes sort of biz.

  11. 11
    Sheena says:

    There are a number of non-Americans playing Americans on TV: Hugh Laurie (House), almost the entire cast of Without A Trace ( Marianne Jean Baptiste, Poppy Montgomery, Anthony La Paglia, his IRL wife Gia Carides in a guest appearance), and I’m sure I’ve forgotten others.

  12. 12
    Jenny K says:

    The other reason that Kate Winslet is considered “fat” is because she got pissed off at Maxim (or was it GQ?) for airbrushing her photo to make her look skinnier than she is. See, it’s not so much that she’s fat, but that she isn’t appropriately ashamed of not being a stick. (Which is kind of odd for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist….maybe she’s an “I’m not a feminist, but….” who thinks that “real feminists” burn bras or something.)

  13. 13
    Sergio Méndez says:


    I am not sure if the movie really clasifies as Sci Fi. I think the machine is just an excuse to make a reflection on love and relastionships etc…Not that sci fi does not use technology or scientific speculation for the purpose of making reflections on human condition, but those reflections are intrinsicaly tied to the science speculation (technological advance or speculation around scientific laws). I will say more than the movie is simply in the same leagues of fantastic literature, the same kind of genre of Kafk´s Metamorphosis…

  14. 14
    Charles says:


    I think your definition of scifi is too restrictive. For example, Ursula K LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven and Philip K Dick’s Valis are both reliably categorized as science fiction, and neither of them involves a greater degree of technological or scientific speculation than Spotless Mind. Even works that are somewhat more obviously science fiction, such as Left Hand of Darkness or Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch don’t have much more to do with science or technology than Spotless Mind.

    I had been strangely resistant to seeing Spotless Mind, I think because I had had it described to me at some point as being a romance, and romances that I don’t hate hate hate are rather rare. I really liked it though, very PK Dickian.

    Also, someone (I think it was Kip) had mentioned someone else objecting to the technicians plot line being given so much time (Kip, if I remember correctly, did not agree with this complaint). I totally agree with Kip, and disagree with the unnamed person: the technicians’ plotline was central to the movie, both thematically and structurally. Without the technicians, the movie would have been in danger of drifting towards the soppy romanticism and structural weakness of What Dreams May Come, the not that bad special effects fest about Robin Williams in Heaven.

    On the actor level, I do wish they had cast someone other than Jim Carrey. He was generally fine, but I thought some of his physical acting was too over-the-top, particularly for the very constrained character he was playing.

  15. 15
    Mr Ripley says:

    Yeh, during the filming of Titanic, James Cameron called her “Kate Weighs-a-Lot.” Which is not only morally abhorrent but a lousy attempt at a pun.

    Something very close to the criteria used in the Mo Movie Measure was (were?) articulated by Samuel Delany in the classic 1975 “Symposium on Women in Science Fiction”; after setting forth the criteria, he added “that any novel that does not, in this day and age, have a strong, central, positive relation between women can be dismissed as sexist (no matter the sex of the author) from the start” and mentioned that he’d worked out these principles with his wife, Marilyn Hacker, a dozen years earlier.

    I bring that up not to deny credit to Alison Bechdel but to point out that written science fiction, I think, has in the past thirty years more often been aware of this problem than other narrative genres, and that cinematic Sci-Fi, notwithstanding the huge leap forward that Kaufman represents, is still some years behind the written genre in predictable ways.

  16. 16
    Elkins says:

    Robert –

    That sounds familiar, but I think the one I might have been thinking of was “Pilgrimage to Earth.” In that story, though, the protagonist is unaware that the “love” he believes he has found is programmed. It ends on a typically sourly misogynist Sheckley note: the crushed protagonist makes his way to Earth’s second-most profitable business — a shooting gallery where one can take pot-shots at realistic-looking Woman Robots.

    The name of the business was, of course, “Love, Inc.” I find it mordantly amusing that if one Googles “Love, Inc.” these days, the first thing that pops up is a religious organization of that same name.

    The “inc” stands for “in Christ.”

  17. 17
    Diane says:

    I so wanted to like this film because I like Kaufman. I almost didn’t see it because I can’t stand Carrey.

    Then I saw it, and was disappointed. Part of my disappointment was that the plot seemed a bit too contrived for me, but the main thing was that I found both of the main characters unappealing, and I had to sit through yet another film about someone being obsessed with a mentally unbalanced, self-absorbed love object. Really, I didn’t care what happened to the Winslet character.

  18. 18
    Melanie says:

    Just finished watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind…

    i adored the way the sound track pulled you into the erasing going on in Joel’s mind… it reminded me of My Bloody Valentine – eery and dreamy…

    i loved the shots in the library/bookstore (near the end of the film -when Clementine is nearly completely erased from Joel’s mind) – as the scene progresses, the number of books shelved backwards increases until at the end – the whole library has books shelved with their spines facing inwards so you can’t read their titles…
    and the lighting gets brighter and brighter as it washes out and obliterates the image on film as well as the memory… beautiful metaphoric visual composition is coupled with atmospheric sounds of permanent erasure and tragic loss…

    i loved the beach and ocean scenes – the juxtaposition between the sunlight, bright, de-lightful, fun, frolicking, carefree, wonder filled moments that Joel and Clementine share – with the darker, somber, painful, angst ridden, night time moments that are recollections of regret that come sweeping in like the tide… driven, certain, relentless, pounding, eroding the mind, heart, soul.

    i loved the texture of the weaving of scenes and the lack of closure at the raw and tattered edges… i wanted to cry as Joel described the predictable nature of the trap their relationship had become… hackneyed and flat… lacking the magic, transcendent moments that they had both become addicted to… seeing and hearing their disappointments in each other, feeling the weight of the oppression of that disappointment…

    this movie was both numbing and exhilarating – from one moment to the next… on the most basic level – like getting into an elevator and feeling it go up to the third floor then down to one then up to the fourth then down to two then up to the third floor then down to two and up to the fifth floor… little stops and starts, some seemingly defying gravity, and some confirming its existence…

    i thought i was grieving for Joel as his memories were being wiped out. I figured out, at the end, i was grieving for the love I had lost – and would one day lose again.

    i was not disappointed. i was awestruck at the sheer certainty that we are destined, doomed, determined to dance this dance between the seeds we sow and the row we hoe.