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Happy Twentieth Anniversary, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!”

Twenty years ago today, a marvel of a movie was released. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who after dealing with a breakup, discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), has decided to go through with a new procedure that allows her to erase every memory of him from her mind. After hearing about this, Joel decides to do the same, but as the film goes on, we see the memories he’s about to lose, and he realizes he might have second thoughts.

At its core, Eternal Sunshine is the deconstruction of a rom-com, typical meet-cutes and all. But around the story of Joel and Clementine, there’s the story of Lacuna Inc., the company that does these procedures. People don’t just go to Lacuna to forget about an ex-partner, as seen by the lady in their office who brought her dog’s ashes. Throughout the film, we’re introduced to the company’s founder and his various employees. The ethics of the company are questionable, but after all, it’s not up to them if someone wants to forget something.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind demonstrates exactly what’s so great about Charlie Kaufman’s work. He’s able to get a crazy magical realism-esque premise and make something out of it that manages to be both smart and entertaining. The film marks his second collaboration with Michel Gondry (the guy who did that awesome White Stripes music video with the Legos), after their earlier film Human Nature was sorta a flop (it’s not good, to say the least.) Kaufman is the type of writer who I think works best when he has a director helping execute his vision. Movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Anomalisa (which he co-directed) all work so well because Kaufman has someone else alongside him who understands his intent and can execute it in a way that both respects and improves the script. Eternal Sunshine even features a score by Jon Brion, who manages to add something entirely unique to every film he works on (oh, and his solo album is great too.)

But because of Eternal Sunshine’s rom-com aspect, it wouldn’t work nearly as well if it weren’t for the two great lead performances. A lot of comedic actors can also be the best dramatic actors. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems, and most recently, Nathan Fielder in Showtime’s The Curse. Jim Carrey fits in perfectly with those type of comedians-turned-serious actors. His performance in Eternal Sunshine feels like the exact opposite of what people had come to expect from him. Instead of being loud and energetic, he’s grounded and realistic, contrasting with Kate Winslet’s depiction of his fun and outgoing love interest. But it’s perhaps their differences that bring them together (and eventually tear them apart).

The film was met with critical and commercial success when it released, winning Best Screenplay at the Oscars and being named one of the ten best films of 2004 by the American Film Institute. But its status has only increased over time, and it feels like I can’t go an entire week without seeing one of its many quotes on Instagram. It’s one of those movies that (ironically enough) tends to linger in the back of people’s minds long after they’ve seen it.