Sequence Exegesis: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

2004 Michel Gondry

This 20 second sequence is from the middle of the movie where in an effort to save Clementine from being erased from his memory, Joel has taken her to a memory from his childhood. The scene is set outdoors, near his family home and pictures four young boys crouched over a bird, with three of them encouraging a small Joel to kill the bird. After being pressured into this, he immediately is saddened by his own actions and is pulled away by the introduced character of Clementine as a child. The director cleverly plays with using Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, as well as two child actors to emphasise this disjointed, conscious memory that they are both experiencing.

The colour of the set in this scene is quite natural and muted, the costume however is more colourful and playful, reinforcing the nostalgic emotions of childhood memories. The props are strongly noted too, the pink hat Clementine wears as well as the pillow she holds, the red cape Joel is wearing and the matching red cart where the bird lies all seem like they could be from our own childhood memories.

The framing follows the children as a group, pressuring Joel, to a shot of the bird lying helplessly in the cart, to a close up of Joel’s face as a child, with his cheeks blushed and looking down, in sadness, then back to the other three boys, finally silenced as sounds of hammering are heard and finished with a single shot of a bare treetop as a bird chirps and flies away, an obvious metaphor for the passing of the other birds life and possibly the departure of Joel’s innocence. The frame comes back to a high shot of Joel breaking down (as an adult now) and Clementine coming in to take him away. The camera follows facing them to show the expression on his face, then as they walk past the camera it turns to show them walking away but as children again. As they walk off a boy is heard yelling “Oooh, he has a girlfriend,” after the pair.

This excerpt is particularly important to the film as it beautifully illustrates a sad and humiliating childhood memory, where Joel wished there was someone like Clementine is his life, reinforcing the idea that plays throughout the film of love and loss and how after loss we often only choose to remember the parts where this person did or would have benefitted us. This particular part in the movie is also important as it follows from a moment earlier where Clementine had opened up to Joel and spoken about how lonely she was as a child, and this excerpt is followed by Joel saying “I wish I knew you when I was a kid” highlighting that both these characters grew up into adults who had a desire to be loved and wanted which ultimately didn’t work out so instead of dealing with the consequences and pain they immaturely erased each other from their own memories which ended up in pain anyway as they discovered the tapes and had to face the consequences in the end regardless.

Reference List

Holbo, J. 2013, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol 53, pp. 250-253, viewed 13 June 2017, <https://academic-oup-com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/bjaesthetics/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/aesthj/ays035&gt;.

Silvey, V. 2009, ‘Not your average love story: film techniques in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ Screen Education, Vol 53, pp. 139-144, viewed 13 June 2017, <http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/fullText;dn=775293021639813;res=IELAPA&gt;.

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