What is I LOVE That Scene? It is a regular feature on our website in which we detail one single film scene we adore. Typically, the scenes we discuss are those that force us to involuntarily exclaim “I LOVE That Scene!” when they are brought up in conversation, thus the name. It is our intention to turn readers onto films through exposure to single scenes. Spoilers will be clearly indicated.
THE FILM: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
THE PLOT: French director Michel Gondry‘s 2004 masterpiece, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind chronicles the life cycle of a doomed romantic relationship between the meek and shy Joel (Jim Carrey) and extroverted but self-destructive Clementine (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-nominated performance).
Sunshine, even with its book-ending prologue and moving epilogue, is about a relationship shown in reverse chronology (i.e., at the beginning, Joel and Clementine are freshly broken up, and at the end we see their first meeting). This is achieved via an ingenious plot structure in which a post-break-up Joel agrees to have all of his memories of Clementine erased from his mind only to regret it during the actual procedure when he is forced to re-live all of the memories with her as they are being erased from his brain. (SPOILERS BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)
THE CONTEXT OF THE SCENE: Joel, who in the real world is sedated and lying on his own bed as three clinic workers monitor his progress via equipment attached to this body, valiantly attempts from within his own mind to derail the memory erasure procedure so as to preserve his memories of Clementine. Despite some daringly successful efforts, he is ultimately incapable of halting the procedure. The version of Clementine in his memories has been made self-aware through interaction with Joel, meaning she also knows that she is being erased from his mind. As such, with somber resignation they relive the events of their first meeting, which occurred at a beach party in Montauk, New York after which she, with Joel her unwitting accomplice, broke into an unoccupied summer home along the beach. They relive this moment, knowing that at its conclusion she will be gone, and they will be saying goodbye forever. As such, they offer a kind of outward director’s commentary on the memory as they are re-living it.
WHY I LOVE IT: Michel Gondry’s inventive visual design for the film utilizes entirely practical effects to connote, visually, the experience of being in one’s own mind while the memories of your surroundings are being erased with each passing second. The result is this scene in which Joel, with the crumbling surroundings functioning metaphorically as a visual embodiment of his relationship with the real Clementine, admits for the first time just how terrified he was of Clementine when they first met. However, and this point is crucial to the overall theme of the film, he admits to wishing he could do it all over again because the overall experience of the relationship, even if its conclusion was devastating, was worth it. Special mention also for composer Jon Brion’s incredibly effective minimalist score, providing the sonic underpinning to the scene. To say what happens next, i.e., after Clementine whispers “Meet me in Montauk”, would be spoiling both the film’s prologue and epilogue. So, I dare not go further and simply conclude with the following re-iteration: I LOVE this scene.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is widely available for purchase or rental, with the most immediate option being Netflix Instant Streaming. If you have not seen it, please consider rectifying this situation. Lovers of the film and of this scene in particular might enjoy this Meet Me in Montauk t-shirt.
Do you have a favorite scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, similar or different than the one I highlighted? Does it kind of hurt you, too, to admit that Clementine is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Let us know in the comments.