Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be found here.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is based on an original screenplay by French director Michel Gondry, American screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and French artist Pierre Bismuth. The title is taken from Eloisa to Abelard (1717) by Alexander Pope [1688-1744], a poem about a tragic love affair. The quote is as follows:

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.

Kaufman's first draft of what became Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is available in a number of places on the web, e.g. here. This is not the script of the movie. It's an early draft of the idea which eventually became the movie. It is interesting in its own right. It would have been totally fascinating to see Carrey and Winslet play that script, because they could both pull off aging their characters by fifty years. Not only are the events different, the characters are different. You simply cannot draw valid conclusions about the characters in the movie based on the characters in the first draft, however intriguing both sets of characters and events may be. The draft used at the start of filming is the shooting draft. The shooting draft isn't the final movie either, because things were changed and a lot was left out. Joel is a more likable character in the final movie, and the raw script doesn't indicate how much the director and the actors brought to the final product. Finally, you can read a transcript of the movie here. It's a bit strange because it's just a copy of the English subtitles, so it has no character indications, very few stage directions, etc. Frequently the character speaking changes in the middle of the line, and there's no indication. So it's mostly useful when you're looking for a snippet of conversation to quote or discuss.

Nasal decongestant. We can't see the brand, but anyone who has ever needed it easily recognizes the act.

The complex time line in Eternal Sunshine confuses many people. There are three interacting time lines to consider: real time, dream time, and superimposed time. This is in addition to "screen time"—the amount of time a movie lasts—which all movies have. It's the interaction of the characters across these different time frames that drives a lot of the fascination with the movie.

Real time: The "present" of the movie, specifically February 13th-16, 2004. Even this time line has one discontinuity. The movie begins on Feb 14, continues with the night of Feb 15 and morning of Feb 16, then jumps back to the evening of Feb 13 (when the credits begin), follows though that night with the Lacuna people and Clem, briefly repeats the opening and continues beyond the opening.

Dream time: Starts when Joel is seen lying on the bed after taking the pill, and goes backward through the history of Joel and Clem's romance.

Superimposed time: This is the part where first Joel, and then later both Joel and Clem, view the dream event from outside. This is distinct from dream time because their thoughts, conversation, and actions have a forward motion even while dream time is moving backward. You see this first when Joel is first "under" and reappears watching himself in the Lacuna office and asks Howard "am I in my head now". Then there are scenes with Joel saying to Clem "there's someone here" and "how does he know to call you that"—which are linked to the "real time" because they result from what Joel is hearing in his bedroom, even while the eraser guys think Joel can't hear them. Clem becomes active in superimposed time after the "holiday on ice," when they first start running from the eraser guys, and eventually becomes more aggressive than Joel in trying to protect his memory (knowing that she has already lost hers and that his memory is the only hope of getting them back together).

The tape that Joel threw out the window of his car isn't the tape from Lacuna. This point probably confuses more people than any other single point in the movie. It's a music tape—perhaps prerecorded but more likely a mix tape, based on the lack of any visible label. Notice that when Joel ejects the tape, the music (Beck singing "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime") stops and the console briefly flashes the frequency of a radio station before the cut. According to Kaufman, this is a mix tape which Joel and Clem had enjoyed together and that the song is "their song." (It's been noted that using a cassette tape in 2004 is, like many other things, a retro element of the movie.) At the time Joel tosses the tape, he is on his way home from Lacuna, with the erasure planned for that evening. The movie is running in "real time" at this point, but has just jumped backward from the morning of February 16th (when Joel and Clem stop in front of Clem's apartment) to the evening of February 13th, just before Joel's erasure. According to Howard's instructions, Joel should have turned this tape in to Lacuna. Probably in his haste, he just forgot. On the way home, he realized that he still had the tape, and either tossed it to avoid encountering it later (per the Lacuna procedure) or just found it too painful to keep. This fits in with the rest of the movie, since Lacuna kept everyone's tapes (as seen with Mary returning them), and at the end of the movie, after the reunion, "their song" comes on again over the final credits and plays in its entirety.

It is there ultimately to show how mysterious the ways of love and relationships are, and to show the limits of science over the human heart. One message of the movie is that time with someone that goes "sour" isn't necessarily wasted time (e.g. if you erase all memories that have affected you over the past two years, you also erase the person you have become, and you are liable to make the same mistakes you made before). Not that Joel and Clementine together was a mistake. There is no reason to think that Clementine didn't go through exactly the same denial and attempts to hide a memory of Joel during her erasure. However, while Joel is a more emotional person, he drew far more attention to his actions during his procedure, thus most of the plot of the film, but Clementine may have been a little more resourceful and cunning (just her memory in Joel's mind managed to give Joel enough ideas to throw off the erasers!) and managed to sneak under the radar of the erasers, and hide a memory of Joel. Another possibility is that the beach at Montauk is a special place to them, thus why they are both subconsciously drawn to it. All of Joel's old things that Patrick was using on her could have resonated with her, reawakened things thought to be erased and drawn her back to the beach. Whether due to Patrick's use of the old things or because of an unsuccessful erasure, it is clear that Clementine has some nagging, vestigial memories that she is trying to work out. Most significantly, she keeps going back to the frozen Charles: once with Patrick (which feels wrong to her) and then again with Joel two days later, so it makes sense that she would also return to Montauk. It may be telling that she brings people with her to the frozen Charles because she originally went there with Joel, but goes to Montauk alone as if she has a sense that she is supposed to be meeting someone there.

Some viewers take the literal POV that it's impossible for the "real" Clem to be present in Joel's dream and that it's just a dream. Others say that the character in the "dream" sequences is really the character of Clem. The character of Clem, as we know her by the end of the movie, is developed more during the dream sequences than anywhere else. That's where Kaufman and Gondry and Winslet put the largest part of their efforts, simply because it's the largest part of the movie. To say this is "only" Joel's dream/memory of Clem is to wall oneself off from a lot of Clem's character as portrayed in the movie. If you say that Dream Clem isn't really Clem, then the next question is "where's the real Clem?" since her character is mostly developed in the dream. In this POV, there's nothing miraculous about Clem and Joel both going to Montauk. Clem whispered "meet me in Montauk." Howard, just finishing up Joel's erasure, missed this tiny bit—Joel and Clem had been racing for half the night to protect some memory from the eraser guys, and this was the memory they protected. They then both acted on the memory, though for both it was subconscious. This is a very theatrical view of the movie. In other words, this view says the movie is not supposed to represent events which are possible in the real world, but to tell about characters and about our own emotions and about the human condition. Compare it with Hamlet, that all-time epitome of non-action theater. We don't insist on a realistic explanation for the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet's father. It's just a theatrical convention. Then for almost four hours, nothing happens, and yet many consider it the greatest play ever written. The character of Hamlet is the play. A lot of the difference of opinion on this is a difference between people who are interested in watching movies for the events and people who are interested in watching for the characters. Both are valid ways to watch movies, and some movies cater to one or the other. Clearly Eternal Sunshine draws both kinds of people, hence the ambiguities and the differences of opinion, and also hence a lot of the charm and draw of the film. In any case, Clem in Joel's mind is far more than his memories, as she is saying things and doing things which she clearly never did in real life. This is the "superimposed time line" discussed in another entry. Even if you believe that this is "only" in Joel's mind, it's more than memory. And it's still Clem's character as we know it through the movie.

The route from Montauk to Rockville Centre to Boston can be seen here. Most of the story takes place in Rockville Centre (New York), a town on Long Island about five miles east of Queens (the easternmost borough of New York City). It's just a few miles east of the easternmost road leaving Long Island. Joel's apartment is about 0.4 mile from the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) Rockville Centre station. Montauk (New York) is about 100 miles east of Rockville Centre, at the eastern tip of Long Island. Montauk Point State Park is at the very tip, and the town of Montauk is adjacent. The train ride would be about two and a half to three hours. The Charles River is in Boston (Massachusetts). Boston is about 220 miles from Rockville Centre, about a 4½-hour drive, perhaps 3½ hours late at night. (It's all on freeways, but the traffic is heavy.) Thus a trip to the Charles River (in Boston) from Rockville Centre is a major drive, about 7 hours round trip, minimum. From Rockville Center, the bearings to Boston and Montauk are only about 30 degrees apart. However, because the only way to cross Long Island Sound east of Rockville Centre is by ferry, Boston and Montauk might as well be in opposite directions from Rockville Centre. The location of the Lacuna office is in lower Manhattan. However, this isn't really significant in the movie. Technically, it's a bit less convenient to reach from Rockville Centre than you'd guess from the movie. It's portrayed as something local, and that's the significant part.

Some people have noted the apparently rural character of the "frozen Charles" scenes and the apparent incongruity with the location in central Boston. Nonetheless, there's little ambiguity about the location, because the Charles is a short river, with the source only 26 air miles from the mouth. See here for more information. There are lots of parks along the Charles River even in the urban area. However, the scenes could also imply the outer areas of the Charles, which are closer to Interstates 95 and 495 nearer to the source. The distant headlights in the background would imply this. Also in these areas, the ice would be thicker given the shallower depth; within the immediate Boston area, the ice is generally too thin to safely walk across.

The original concept of the film involved Joel and Clementine getting together and breaking up many times, indicating that they will be somewhat "together" forever. This was cut short for time, and they only ended up having one (and a half) relationships. The laughing at the end signifies that the two are happy as they are, and even though there is the distinct possibility that eventually they will get sick of each other and break up, their current feelings towards each other are strong enough for them to continue their relationship no matter what the outcome may be. The viewer in this case gets to decide what the outcome is. However, just before the credits, it can be seen how they are playing in the snowy beach, several times, before the movie fades to white, black, and credits. This can indicate a draft of the original concept.

"Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" by Beck. The rest of the songs can be found here with scene descriptions.

"When Clementine and Joel first met, her hair is an acidic shade of green. The hair is long and grown out with significant roots showing, revealing the blonde underneath, and she pairs it with a bright orange sweatshirt. Green is the color of life, of renewal, of nature. It is associated with harmony, freshness, and ambition, the presence of her roots only emphasizing the budding life of their connection. The only time we see Clementine with this hair color is at this moment, the day her and Joel first meet. Its the blossoming of something fresh and alive; something pure and organic and derivative of human nature. Its the birth of all that is to come—and of course, one of the final colors we see in the backwards-facing trajectory of the film." Read more here.


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