Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

In music video director Michel Gondry's innovative romantic comedy (based upon Charlie Kaufman's inventive script) - his second feature film - a bizarre, artful and absurdist sci-fi romantic fantasy with a jigsaw puzzle twist about the lobotomizing erasure of painful memories in a 2-year relationship between two ex-lovers. Alexander Pope's 1717 poem Eloisa to Abelard provided the film's title (referencing a line about forgetting painful memories), spoken by Kirsten Dunst as one of the characters, but attributed wrongly to "Pope Alexander." The film's concluding premise was that an erased or spotless mind doesn't necessarily bring eternal sunshine.

Specifically, it told about two individuals in a broken-up relationship who decided separately, in despair, to wipe all traces of their memories together through an erasure process; the film traveled (in reverse) through their experience of meeting and passionately loving each other, and the wonderful and painful memories that the romantic experience generated; along the way, the realization came that the two didn't really want to forget each other after all:

  • in the opening (afterwards revealed as much later in the timeline since the memories of both protagonists had been erased), in the film's plot about a love story told in reverse, lonely, introverted, "close-mouthed" Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) woke up and skipped a day of work as he muttered (in voice-over): "Random thoughts for Valentine's Day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap." Ditching work after noticing his damaged car's left door, he impulsively took a Long Island RR train car traveling to Montauk Point State Park to its off-season, frigid beach
  • unbeknownst to him, on the train trip out of town, he saw quirky, free-spirited multi-color-haired, tangerine-colored sweatshirt-wearing Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) - not knowing because of recent memory erasures, that she was his ex-girlfriend. He noticed that pages from his journal were inexplicably ripped out and missing: ("Don't remember doing that"), and he made his first entry in two years. The female was also seen in a diner, when he thought to himself: "Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?"
  • on the return trip on a Long Island train, she asked him: "Do I know you?," and they were inexplicably attracted to speak to each other, although she was feisty with him at times and they were incompatible or unlikely as a couple. She confided that she was glad he was treating her nicely, but also apologized that she appeared dippy and "nutso." And then over drinks in her apartment (decorated with potato heads), she confessed: "I'm gonna marry you. I know it." They also spent a playful night on frozen-over Charles River looking at the stars, and he drove her to her apartment the next morning. [Note: Later, as the scene played longer, Joel exclaimed: "I had the best f--king night of my entire f--king life."]
  • after a fade-out, the film began a second time with a much clearer plotline; the credits appeared over the next scene, to the tune of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime." Joel had just had a bitter break-up with his loving girlfriend - uninhibited, spontaneous and impulsive Clementine. He was attempting to win her back by buying her a necklace pendant (made from a hand-painted shell) from her favorite store as an early Valentine's Day gift. When he went to present it to her at her place of employment, Barnes and Noble bookstore, he mournfully realized that she didn't know him ("She looks at me like she doesn't even know who I am...Why would she do that to me?"). He learned that she had all traces of him and their relationship deleted from her memory (to create a "spotless mind" and "move on"), by a New York City company known as Lacuna, Inc.
With An Erased Memory, Clementine Didn't Recognize Joel in Her Place of Employment - Barnes & Noble Bookstore
  • in an act of despair, Joel decided to undergo the same procedure to find peace of mind through the services of the inventor of the erasure process, mad-scientist Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson): ("Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking"). Mierzwiak instructed Joel to collect all mementos of Clementine (in two garbage bags) from his two years with her, so that they could be destroyed, but first, the objects would be used to map Joel's brain and target memory areas for selective erasure. Joel anticipated the result: "The perfect ending to this piece-of-s--t story."
  • the story was then told with reverse-order flashbacks, beginning with the most painful memories of the doomed couple's recent breakup, progressing forward to their earliest, best memories
  • while unconscious and drugged (with a helmet on his head) in his own apartment that night as he lay prone on his sofa-bed, the firm's inept and bumbling technicians from Lacuna conducted the erasures: geeky Stan Fink (Mark Ruffalo), dim-witted Patrick (Elijah Wood), and Stan's girlfriend - Lacuna's office-assistant Mary Svevo (Kirsten Dunst)
Lacuna To Remove and Erase Joel's Memories of Clementine
  • acting irresponsibly, Stan and Mary became drunk and stoned as they danced together in their underwear on and around the sofa-bed (and had sex) during the erasure process, while Patrick left to comfort his upset new girlfriend Clem! (Unethically and quite abusively, Patrick had stolen some of Joel's memories, and ultimately his identity, to seduce and 'win' Clem's heart, e.g., her pet name (tangerine), saved love notes, Joel's jewelry gift, etc..)
  • Joel had a flood of memories and imaginative recollections (recessed deeply) of their time together as he moved through their relationship history, beginning with his most recent and painful memories of 2004 which were selectively erased first, and then progressively moving backward into 2003 with their earliest, best memories
  • there were destructive memories the night of their breakup in 2004, including Clementine's late-night admission that she dented Joel's car (the same door dent) while driving drunk ("tipsy") and his suspected assumption about her sexual aggressiveness that she "f--ked someone tonight" (Joel on her insecurity: "Isn't that how you get people to like you?"); they argued about commitment, having a baby and Clem's ability to be a mother; they also disagreed after Joel commented on Clem's verbalizing: "Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating"
  • Joel reviewed and traveled (in reverse) through his experience of passionately loving her through to his first meeting of her, and the wonderful, painful yet imaginative recollections and memories that the romantic experience generated; everything was deeply recessed within an "emotional core" in his brain (including those of his childhood)
  • he pleaded with the erasure technicians when he saw the memory of them sharing intimate secrets and making love under a comforter: (Joel pleaded: "Please let me keep this memory, just this one"); he also recalled that they happily held hands while lying on their backs on ice: (Joel: "I'm just exactly where I want to be")
  • along the way, Joel came to the realization that he didn't really want to forget Clementine after all and he struggled and fought to stay connected with her and keep his memories of her (and backgrounds) from being deleted. He screamed for the device to be turned off, shouting: "Is anybody there?" and "Wake me up!", but his yearnings were only in his own unconscious sleeping mind
  • to foil erasure efforts for his earliest and best memories, Joel hid inside some of his childhood scenarios when four years old. He crouched in his childhood kitchen (with giant furniture), while Clementine was visualized as his red-haired childhood baby-sitter (with mini-skirt and white go-go-boots), and they bathed together in a sink. To hide even deeper and buried, he fled to a masturbatory fantasy aided by an X-rated comic book, to a beach where the couple were in bed together, and to a shameful childhood memory when young bullies forced him to pound a bird with a hammer
A Flood of Memories During Erasure Process

Sleeping Together

Lying on Ice

Hiding in Kitchen

Bathing Together in Sink

Making Love Under Comforter on the Beach

Clementine Eating Piece of Chicken
  • during the procedure, Mary impulsively kissed Dr. Mierzwiak, who had been called to Joel's apartment during the botched process; she admitted to the married doctor that she had a crush on him: "I've loved you for a very long time." Although the doctor's disgusted wife Hollis (Deirdre O'Connell) witnessed the kiss and knew of their affair: ("Oh you poor kid. You can have him, you did"), Mary was ignorant and didn't realize that Howard had erased her earlier memory of their affair in October of 2002 to cover it up: (Mierzwiak: "We have a history. I'm sorry, you wanted the procedure"); to retaliate, shortly later, Mary quit her job and absconded with the office files of the clients - and notified past customers of their erasures
  • the last of Joel's memories was his first meeting with Clementine at the beach, when she ate a piece of chicken from his plate and he thought to himself: "You just took it. It was so intimate like we were already lovers." That evening, they broke into a Montauk beach house: (Clem: "It's our house, just for tonight"), but then the beachhouse structure disintegrated, crumbled (and flooded) around them as all his memories were erased and disappeared. Joel became regretful and scared as he left Clementine forever: ("I wish I'd stayed too. Now I wish I'd stayed. I wish I'd done a lot of things. I wish I had - I wish I'd stayed, I do"); he departed from the house but then returned briefly for a goodbye when Clementine loudly whispered a secret to him as their images blurred: "Bye, Joel...Meet me at Montauk"
  • the film looped back to the prologue, as Joel awoke and found his car damaged. Clementine received her Lacuna file in the mail the next morning (mailed by Mary) after she had spent the night at the frozen Charles River with Joel; she listened to her own audio recording session before the erasure - while in the car with Joel - of how she had decided to have her memory erased because of him: "I don't like myself when I'm with him...I can't stand to even look at him." Both were bewildered and pained by the revelation
  • shortly later, in the last sequence at Joel's apartment in his hallway, Clem found him listening to his own pre-erasure confessions. Although confused, Joel and Clementine both vowed that it was worthwhile to start their relationship all over again - trusting and hoping that it would work out this second time around:
  • Clementine: "I'm not a concept, Joel. I'm just a f--ked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind. I'm not perfect."
    Joel: "I can't see anything that I don't like about you."
    Clementine: "But you will! But you will! You know, you will think of things. And I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that's what happens with me."
    Joel: "OK."
    Clementine: "OK."

  • they would soon start their relationship afresh after both of them had selectively erased memories of their past difficult 2-year romance

Flashback Prologue: Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) Meeting on the Train and Starting All Over Again

The Couple's Nasty Breakup in 2004

Proof That Lacuna Had Removed Clementine's Memories of Joel

During the Erasure, The Reveal of Mary's (Kirsten Dunst) Wronged Relationship With Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson)

The Beach House in Montauk

Joel's Regrets: "I wish I'd stayed, I do"

Clementine's Whispered Secret to Joel: "Meet me in Montauk"

Listening to Clementine's Pre-Erasure Tape in Joel's Car

Ending: Clementine at Joel's Apartment - Both Vowed to Try Again


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z