Not Spotless But . . . : “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is partly a love story and partly science fantasy about the decisions of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) to technologically erase the memories of each other from the lover’s troubled mind after a breakup.

The phrase “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” in the Alexander Pope poem Eloise to Abelard refers to the blessed state of an undefiled mind, not the state of a mind free of painful memories, as in this film. Yet screenwriter Charlie Kaufman deliberately assigns this particular meaning to the phrase and has it quoted by a character (played by Kirsten Dunst) who seems to value the removal of memories even if ignorant that she herself once had some memories erased. There may be something else here, however: Bad behavior takes place in the film, which could carry the implication that things would be better—in our love affairs, for example—if the human mind was undefiled.

What’s more, I feel inspired to say that after the Kirsten Dunst character utters “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!” she quotes Pope’s follow-up words, “Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.” All these words together, I think, suggest that she and the other people in the movie are creatures of hope. They live on hope, looking for at least some of their wishes (the most important ones) to be resigned.

The plot of Eternal Sunshine is flawed but highly interesting—more so than the aesthetic experience the film hopes to offer. Michel Gondry directed painstakingly, and he has a savvy cinematographer in Ellen Kuras. The film would be nothing without Valdis Oskardottir’s editing and, well, close to nothing without Winslet’s engrossing performance and Tom Wilkinson‘s master touch. It is a fine, and quite literate, motion picture.

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