‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ is part of a long-running series created by Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience. It asks writers to pick their favorite frame of a movie and expand on how it represents the movie as a whole to him or her.
On the eve of the anniversary of its release, ten years ago next week, one of the most shocking things about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is how it hasn’t aged a day. On its base description, in which technology has progressed to the point where one can have past relationships erased from your brain, it would make sense that the film would feel dated. There are scenes of employees tapping away on keyboards while wielding advanced computer programs, cars crashing from the sky onto sidewalks and memories within dreamscapes devolving.
It all feels as if it was filmed today. This is basically two-fold. First is that Charlie Kaufman’s script and Michel Gondry’s direction isn’t actually interested in the science fiction element of the plot. In another team’s hands, one can imagine montages of how the erasing works, at least for the Lacuna techs doing said erasing. The movie’s machines couldn’t be plainer and the simplicity of how it looks goes to keeping it from appearing from another era or like some poorly imagined futuristic device. Jim Carrey’s Joel sports what amounts to a big metal helmet with some wires and that’s about it.
The second factor is how perfectly put together the relationship of Joel and Kate Winslet’s Clementine is in its ups and downs. There’s the meet-cute on the train, which it turns out isn’t really them meeting. We see them fight about personal things in the street, biting at each other in a way only two people who’ve spent countless hours together do. The way Clementine berates Joel about speaking too softly is a little detail that reveals a great depth to their past interactions; a small thing that has grown into the occasional piece of pure annoyance.
What’s especially impressive about Kaufman’s script is how hopeful it is in the end. It never pretends that Joel and Clementine are perfect for one another. Yet, it gets the go-for-broke blindness that comes with romance, as well as the baggage. That’s why for my favorite shot from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I selected a scene that focuses on a conversation where Joel and Clementine both know the situation of which they’ve come to be stuck.
Clementine has been almost entirely erased from Joel’s brain, as a flicker of a blunt conversation sparks. It initially plays out as it originally occurred, with Clementine declaring her nature. She declares, “Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive. I’m just a f-cked up girl looking for her own piece of mind. Don’t assign me yours. “ They both look down, the weight of expectations baring down on them. Joel responds. “I remember that speech really well.” The two laugh and Joel says, “ I still thought you were going to save my life; even after that.” They mention giving it another shot, if only they can find one another post-operation.
It’s a slice of a tender, thoughtful heart, uniting the timelines and realities gelling into one. The scene revels in how as much as people learn from their mistakes, some we are just prone to make again and again, with each person. There is a history that hovers over every utterance, every decision. In this moment, Kaufman and Gondry let its characters painfully recognize a second in time that by all measures signifies that they will not work out.
They try though. They try to find one another. They try to love one another again. They try to realize that all of us aren’t perfect. In a movie that is complicated in description, it’s an example of its basic premise.