Directed by Michael Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) has captivated millions with its dramatic, romantic, and overall nostalgic story. With a nonlinear narrative, the movie shows the conflicts a couple deals with in their relationship. We get to see how love and joy soon turn into pain and the wish to forget and move on; to attempt to bury the memories and pretend they never happened.
After watching the movie, you probably looked back at your own experiences with love and heartbreak and saw them in a completely different way. All the complexities we experience through love are portrayed amazingly in Gondry’s movie, mainly because we get to see that transformation love goes through when mixed with toxicity.
The film wasn’t only praised by the audience that has listed it among its favorites, but also by the critics. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has been named one of the best movies of the millennium, and they’re not wrong.
So, if you want to become an expert on one of the best movies of our time, here are some facts that will make you see the film in a different way.
The name of the movie was taken from Alexander Pope’s famous poem “Eloisa to Abelard.”
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.
The movie received, among many important awards, an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Some questioned the decision, claiming that it should’ve been considered in the category of Adapted Screenplay instead since part of the story was based on Boris Vian’s novels The Red Grass and Heartsnatcher. These novels center on subjects like memory and how we deal with it, and even suggests a machine to erase them. Besides that, the names of the characters in Gondry’s film, Clementine and Joel, were also taken from the novel. Charlie Kaufman, screenplay writer, has declared he’s aware of the similarities, but at the end of the day it has more of his own experience and personality.
Gondry has claimed he had always wanted to explore the way in which memories can affect how we feel. Artist Pierre Bismuth, Gondry’s friend, had told him about a particular idea he had come up with. He wanted to send a letter to people saying that all the memories about them had been erased from someone they had known. Through this artistic and psychological experiment, he wanted to analyze and study the reaction of the subjects. The experiment never happened, but Gondry was fascinated with Bismuth’s idea so he started developing the story with him. Later on, Charlie Kaufman joined them to make the script.
Initially, Gondry thought of Björk for the role of Clementine, since he had already worked with her on her music video, “Human Behaviour.” However, Björk rejected the invitation after reading the script fearing she could be emotionally affected. Her fear, naturally, came after the depression she experienced after filming Dancing in the Dark (2000).
For the role of Joel, Gondry had considered Nicolas Cage. However, Jim Carrey’s audition blew their minds away. Besides that, at that time, Cage wasn’t accepting that many projects, which led production to consider other actors. Mainly, they were looking for someone people could feel relate to, meaning someone that didn’t look like a Hollywood movie star. Besides that, Carrey’s career as a comedian eventually gave the character a certain depth, so, while unexpected, he ended up doing a great job.
In the movie, the name Joel gives to his girlfriend is based on the song Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound used to sing: “Oh my darling Clementine.”
All the train scenes were shot while the train was in movement.
The scene in which Joel and Clementine walk through the streets of Manhattan during a parade was totally improvised. The production team decided to attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Annual Elephant Parade on 34th street, and the rest is history.
The helmet design we see in the film was inspired by a tool used by neurosurgeons to scan the brain when they’re looking for hard-to-find tumors. Production designer Dan Leigh and Gondry himself visited Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to speak with a neurosurgeon and get ideas for the helmet.
Clementine’s different hair colors show her moods. As she describes it, they mean: blue: ruin, red: threat, orange: fever, and green: revolution. Besides that, these colors help the viewer keep track with the time jumps in the story. Kate Winslet had to change her hair color constantly, even within the same day, to shoot the different scenes.
This is still one of Kate Winslet’s favorite characters in her career, and it was also highly praised by the critics. In 2006, Premiere included her performance among the 100 best performances of all time.
Gondry auditioned some of the most famous actresses of the time but ended up choosing Winslet for the role since she was the only one to give her opinion on the script, even negative ones. As he explained, he was surprised since she was the only one who wasn’t sucking up to him. Winslet told him she felt the script was a bit repetitive and that they shouldn’t be afraid of really showing the characters’ dark emotions. Besides that, though the studio was aiming for another actress, who is still a mystery, Gondry defended his choice for Winslet and threatened not to do the film if she wasn’t cast.
The scene where Joel sees himself meeting Dr. Howard Mierzwiak hours before, shows two different times in the story. First, the camera shows Joel looking back at his past; then, the desk in which Joel and the doctor are talking; later on it jumps once again to the present. These scenes were shot simultaneously and Carrey would run behind the camera to go from one place to the other.
In 2000, Christopher Nolan gave us Memento, a film that got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The movie shows some similarities with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which Gondry and Kaufman were working on. It told a nonlinear story in which a character disturbed with his past is experiencing memory loss. When Nolan’s picture started getting praise, Kaufman and Gondry considered canceling the movie. However Steve Golin (producer of the film) encouraged them to go on.
Gondry encouraged actors Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Kate Winslet to improvise in their scenes. However, that was not the case for Jim Carrey, which utterly frustrated him. The reason was that Carrey’s character had to be more reserved and not that spontaneous (contrary to Carrey’s personality).
When the movie was in the editing stage, Gondry’s girlfriend broke up with him. Later, he claimed he couldn’t watch the film because he would get very, very sad. The scene in which Jim Carrey’s character takes all his stuff and leaves was one of the most heartbreaking for the director.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
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