“Hey,” I said. “I do know what your favourite colour is.”
“What is it, then?”
“It’s green, right?”
My girlfriend loved green. She wore green all the time. Her nickname at school, she had told me, was ‘green’, due to the sheer volume of green upon her person at all times. Given the context, it’s not hard to see how I’d come to that conclusion.
My girlfriend declared, almost triumphantly, that her favourite colour was yellow. Given the evidence listed above, this seemed unlikely to me. I told her that she was clearly mistaken. This didn’t help, for some reason.
We continued our argument as we queued for tickets. We fought between polite interactions with the ticket vendor We called a ceasefire at the confectionary stand.
As we settled into our seats, we weren’t speaking. Within about five minutes into the film, all was forgotten. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the kind of film that puts things in context.
Arguably both writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry’s best work, Eternal Sunshine manages to strike a balance between the heart and the mind. Essentially, it’s an intelligent, adult sci fi movie, but watching it, you forget that. Often with sci fi, the technical elements of the world created often suffocate the story itself; you end up with an interesting concept delivered in a cold, clinical way. In Eternal Sunshine, the Phillip K Dick-like concept is almost incidental, eclipsed in part by the story’s humanity.
Set, for the most part, over the course of one night, Eternal Sunshine tells the story of Joel and Clementine through the memories of the former, as he struggles to resist a treatment that will erase her from his mind.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet give terrific, nuanced performances as the central couple, whose relationship – the highs and lows– we piece together through Joel’s fractured memories. The triumph of the film is that their relationship feels so genuine; we are all guilty of being both giving and self-centred within our relationships, of developing little quirks; fighting over the significant and insignificant; letting our insecurities get in the way. Joel and Clementine’s insecurities completely infect and destroy their lives together, to the point at which they erase each other from their memories.
Kaufman and Gondry prevent the potential imbalance between the relationship and the erasing scenes by delving into the love lives of the erasers themselves. The story of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary is particularly heartbreaking, as what seems like a fairly straightforward situation slowly unravels as the night goes on.
Creepier is Elijah Wood as Patrick, who worms his way into Clementine’s life by effectively replacing Joel – using Joel’s memories and gifts as a way of re-enacting their relationship. In lesser hands, Patrick would be characterised as a more two-dimensional ‘bad man’, but Kaufman and Gondry get us to feel sorry for him as while also disapproving of his actions.
The plot is complex and non-linear, but expertly structured. Even at its most confusing moments, the plot pulls you along with it. Again, this comes from the film’s ever-present emotional core, giving you something recognisable to cling to.
Despite being about a break-up, Eternal Sunshine is surprisingly uplifting. Their relationship might have failed, but Joel and Clementine’s love for each other radiates from the screen in both their happy and sad moments. The film ties all of these together in an ending full of sugar-free sentimentality, hinting at a happy ending without ramming it down your throat.
My girlfriend and I left the cinema together, arm in arm. Halfway home, my girlfriend turned to me: “I guess my favourite colour is green. Now I think about it.”
We’re getting married next year. Our wedding will be cinema themed, and Eternal Sunshine will be a part of it.