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« Yes, No, Maybe So: "The Giver" | Main | Visual Index ~ Eternal Sunshine's Best Shots »
Tuesday
Mar182014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

I am Joel Barish.

Or I was while rewatching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I hadn't seen the film in about 8 years and it rushed at me which such full force it felt like the first time again... or at least like the most vivid Déjà Vu ever. The experience is disorienting in its speed (20 minutes in and you're already portal'ed into Being Joel Barrish, without quite realizing it) moving in performance (career best work from Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey and a pitch-perfect supporting cast) and fascinating in its premise, looping structure and mirrored ideas (Charlie Kauffman's ingenious screenplay justly won the Oscar). But it's in the realm of the visuals where Michel Gondry and DP Ellen Kuras bring it all together with imagination, verve and an entirely bold and unusual use of light and focus.

The "Best Shot" task suddenly seemed unthinkable. "Can I choose 'every'?" I ask myself in a whimper, like Joel begging to keep just this one intimate moment with Clementine in bed. What kind of a sadistic game is this series of ours? I wanted to throw my hands up and cry out... or at least type out in blog form: 

Do you hear me? I want to call it off!"

For anyone who has ever loved and lost painfully, the premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is cruelly precise, both tempting and unthinkable. The most literal representation of that is surely the iconic shot of beautiful bright Clementine pulled from the ice beside Joel into inky blackness, forever out of reach. That and the blurry iconic "Meet me in Montauk" closeup which feels exactly like the irreversible imprint that its meant to be, are the two images that I think of immediately whenever my memories flutter back toward the movie.

Neither have lost their power.  

But as a movie that's unfolding before you and not as you remember it, the most powerful shots are those in perpetual motion (see photo above). This is Eternal Sunshine at its most alive and dangerous, as Joel tries to outrun and escape his foolish decision to have Clementine erased from his mind. This image, Joel running  through ever-shifting but somehow circular hallways, pulling his beloved along (she is never as fully visible but for that unmistakable tangerine hair) is repeated twice in the movie. It's broken up with a third variation that is horizontal as a spotlight keeps catching them as they run through Clem's bookstore.  Kuras' choice of bright spotlights which lend each frame both blinding beauty and empty darkness, feels almost like lucid dreaming and definitely like love gone hopelessly wrong; you're experiencing it, you think you can control it, but it's perpetually slippery, sliding at the edges into a nightmare. Which is not unlike the futile experience of trying to avoid grief or pretending the love wasn't there. 

There is no escape from the past. And if there were some soothing ill-advised oblivion to choose instead, gone goes all the beauty with it.

"Okay?" "Okay."

The Collection of 33 Best Shots  from participating cinephiles... Or just click around on these blogs and be surprised: The Examiner, I Want to Believe, Manuel Betancourt, Mario Arratia, Lam Chop ChopStranger than Most, Victim of the Time, Awards Circuit, Entertainment Junkie, Antagony & Ecstasy, (Home) Film Schooled, We Recyle Movies , Martin Fernando, Amiresque , Film Actually, Ben's Talking Pictures, Coco Hits NY, A Blogwork Orange, Best Shot in the Dark, Cinemunch, Intifada , Cinema Romantico, Dancin' Dan on Film, Sorta That Guy, Film Misery, Encore's World, Three Pounds Lost, The Film's The Thing, Musings and Stuff, Cinema Pop, My New Plaid Pants, and... Yours?

Next Tuesday: L.A. Confidential (1997) starring Noah himself, Russell Crowe 

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Reader Comments (10)

Absolutely one of my favorite movies ever. I love charlie Kaufman and spike jonze and this movie is why. Endlessly rewatchable and entertaining and makes you ask yourself questions. Also, the simplicity in the ending is just beautiful. Love this movie..

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLavon

One of the best movies of all time. One of the most original movies of all time. One of the most influential movies of all time. Two of the greatest performances of all time. And many more "of all time". A resounding masterpiece!!!

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Davitos

Your mention of the film being in perpetual motion raises the point for me that even though 20+ of us found very pretty shots, this is one of those films where the power of the photography is seen when it's moving more than in a still shot representation of it. The presence (and then absence) of light in that "trying to outrun the process" section is so chilling that coupled with the score it almost meanders into thriller territory.


I love Clementine's whining, "Why do we always have to run?" line-reading from a few moments earlier.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

andrew k -- yup. it's almost like a horror movie at times. in fact it's one of those rare movies that feels like it could justifiably be interpreted as belonging to a whole slew of genres: sci-fi, romantic comedy, drama, thriller, horror, etcetera,

March 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love that you mentioned the use of the bright single spotlight through the film. Such an inspired lighting choice. It's something I noticed much more this time around when I was watching it again. So stark, cold and surprisingly unsettling. So many movies attempt to do memories and dreams but they rarely feel as realized and plausible.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Love your picks. Those and similar images were also in contention for me. I just love the focused cold light on Carrey and Winslet and all that dark negative space around them.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

Kate Winslet is the best thing about this movie. Charlie Kaufman's next live action writer-director effort will be for FX network. They have greater restrictions on explicit content than HBO. Very disappointed for him.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

These have all been so wonderful to read! I drove out to Montauk last month because I wanted to see that beach (and that house) in the winter—and was tragically disappointed that it was sunny and warm that day. Ah well. It was a dream worth following, and the film itself is always a reward.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkari

kari -- thank you! there are so many that i'm not even done reading them.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

it's so true that so many of those memory/dream sequences are constantly moving. it was hard to get screen grabs because images were so mercurial.

nathaniel, i just want to thank you for hosting another season of HMWYBS! such a great turn-out and you still take time to post comments on everyone's sites. it's much appreciated.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

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