Oh, what would I not give to forget just to be able to remember again! What would it be like to forget something which is the very essence of you and then to have it happen to you again?
“There’s an emotional core to each of our memories…”
As the movie starts, we meet Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) who seems a little disoriented. He ditches work and takes a train to Montauk which puzzles him as he’s not an impulsive person. And then he sees her, all clad in orange, walking along the beach, Clementine Kruczynski (can we take a moment to appreciate the name? Oh, and Kate Winslet). He looked away, trying not to look long at her. As if she were the sun, yet he found himself staring at her, starstruck.
Joel: (narration) “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”
What we get to see here is the start of a relationship, two very different people, falling in love. The meet-cute. The first phone call (which is as cheesy as cheesy comes, lots of chuckling), and then them walking over a frozen river (perhaps a metaphor for their relationship? A throbbing river flowing underneath a frozen blanket of ice). Clementine leads a nervous Joel onto the ice and then they lay there, stargazing, in a perfect harmony with the universe.
Wait, did I not mention that the film is helmed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman? I could write another 2,000 words and even that wouldn’t begin to describe the wizard that he is. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this film.
Next we get to see Elijah Wood, who you might end up hating (I did), and things start to get bizarre. The opening credits which roll on at about the 18 minute mark features a sobbing Joel in his car with a haunting song in the background (EVERYBODY’S GOT TO LEARN SOMETIME by Beck). The main title track is just so intimate. The composer John Brion won a Grammy nomination for his score in this movie.
It is now that we learn that Clementine and Joel are (were?) infact lovers and that after a spat, Clementine had Joel erased from her memory using a new memory reduction procedure at Lacuna Inc. Could ignorance really be bliss?
Mary (Kirsten Dunst): “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”
Joel, out of despair, anger, contempt and heartbreak, decides to erase her out of his memory as well. What happens next is nothing short of genius cinematic experience. Hell, this movie inspired the makers of Inception. Dreams are a wonderful territory.
Joel: “I’m erasing you and I’m happy! You did it to me first!”
It all starts to make sense now. We’ve been watching the movie in reverse all along.
“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
As we ramble (pleasant cinematically and not otherwise) through Joel’s memories, we realize that they shared a vicious relationship. Now, it’s imperative that we understand how that came to be, Joel had always been a recluse and insecure whereas Clementine, who admits to being “a vindictive little bitch“, is whimsical and a damsel in distress, a trainwreck. She can easily overwhelm Joel. Above all, she loves to feel like a victim. The two couldn’t be more wrong for each-other. If you notice, all of Joel’s paintings/sketches of Clementine are gloomy.
We see a break-up and then experience their seemingly great relationship turn sour. All those little details of daily life where you start resenting your partner. Gondry deconstructs their love and shows us its faults. Memories full of ugly spats, confrontations. Although the title comprises of the words ‘Eternal sunshine’, most of the movie is shot at night and is dark. I guess that perfectly depicts the state of one’s mind when he’s morose.
“I’m really happy only when i’m on my own. Even being alone, it’s better than sitting next to lover and feeling lonely.” -Celine, Before Sunset
But as we delve further into Joel’s memories, he realizes that he still loves Clementine! As his subconscious starts to turn into a rubble, he feels his insides claw on him. He cries out in a frenzy and isn’t heard. Amidst this ruin, he tries to cling onto whatever memory he has left of Clementine. His subconscious then, through the medium of Clem, comes up with an idea. What if he hides her into a corner where they won’t expect her to be? But the technicians at Lacuna Inc. figure it out. Misery. But, trust love to work in inexplicable ways.
Joel: “Please let me keep this memory, just this one.”
We witness meetings full of intimacy in a dream like state. Ecstasy.
With an inevitable end in sight, Joel surrenders and looks to enjoy his last few moments with Clementine. To cling onto hope is easy but to give up, to accept fate is heartbreaking. But she whispers one of my favorite dialogues into his ears, “Meet me in Montauk.”
A great numb feeling washes over me as I hear her say it to him.
What happens next? I’d rather not say. Do find out for yourself. Let it exhilarate you.
Let’s talk about Jim Carrey, shall we?
Watching him in this movie was like finding out that your lollipop has a bubble gum inside of it. He is beautifully restrained and bursting with nervous energy. He looks as empty and hollow as the space between the stars. Who could have expected this from him? I know I didn’t. Okay yes, he had been in The Truman Show, but this movie is much more than that. Watching him go through the length of the movie was sheer joy. Oh, and doleful. He just shatters your heart.
Winslet, as always, is a delight and a force to reckon with. Her energy drives the movie and throws Carrey into an uncharted territory, left to fend for himself. And he comes out a winner.
This post would be incomplete if I don’t mention the supporting cast. It’s a great ensemble of Jim Carrey (Joel Barish), Kate Winslet (Clementine Kruczynski), Kirsten Dunst (Mary), Mark Ruffalo (Stan), Elijah Wood (Patrick) and Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Howard Mierzwiak). Each one of them has an arc of their own in the film’s story and they are all necessitous to it’s telling.
It would haunt me if I don’t talk about the cinematography. The movie is fairly low-budgeted and thus it called for innovative thinking and they did just that. Forced perspectives, odd camera positioning, editing, lighting, and what have you! Sheer genius.
Joel: “By morning you’ll be gone. The perfect ending to this piece-of-shit story.”
Being an Indian, I did a victory lap when I heard the two Bollywood songs in the background at Clem’s house. I paused, rewinded and was amazed. The songs killed me, even more so with the situations they were put in. As we enter into her house, Mera Mann Tera Pyasa (Gambler (1971), Mohd. Rafi being the man behind the voice) can be heard and then when Clem exclaims “I’m gonna marry you”, Wada na tod (Dil Tujhko Diya (1987), sung by Lata Mangeshkar). The title of the latter translates to ‘Don’t break the promise’. Eerie, right?
There is a hint of ‘Eternal Return’ in the movie. Eternal return is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. (yes, that’s how wikipedia defined it, I have much more to say on this particular topic but, I’d be digressing). A world full of infinite possibilities and they meet each other again? So, perhaps the halftime of love really is forever. Or perhaps it isn’t. But isn’t it pretty to think so? Because love never dies. It circles and circles, the memories out of order and not always complete.
My knowledge of adjectives is failing me. Ransack the language as I might, I’ll find no words to describe this visionary masterpiece.
All I want to say is that, movies, just like us, have a soul 🙂
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
-Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard