The first time I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I stopped watching the movie when the opening credits rolled roughly seventeen minutes into the film. Unfortunately, the first time I viewed the film I didn’t stick around long enough for the most amazing parts of the film. When I finally finished watching the film all the way through I was thoroughly impressed by the use of a multitude of techniques to achieve a look and feel that can only be described as amazing. Once I started to analyze the film, I realized that the film combines elements from all of the concentrations of film to create a truly spectacular film.
One of the first things that I noticed in the film was the use of handheld camera movements in the beginning portions of the film. This was most likely done to give the film a realistic feel to it right up front. I believe that the cinematographer, Ellen Kuras, was trying to make sure that the audience knew that this part was “real”. Having a handheld camera made the distinction between the real word, and imaginative world (Joel’s memories). The realism of these scenes continues as lighting is brought into play. In the “real” word, most of what is seen is lit by available lighting. The film turns formalistic when the audience is traveling with Joel through his memories. The cinematographer used direct lighting to light the subjects. In most of the memories it seems that the camera is attached to a flood light, moving and focusing only narrowly on what can be seen as Joel’s memories are being erased. The camera moves smoothly around Joel increasing the stylization. The cinematographer creates a contrast between the real world Joel lives in and the memories he is seeing while they are being erased. The special effects in the film also add to the stylistic nature of Joel’s memories. In the beginning and end of the film, virtually no special effects are used to any extent. When his memories are being erased by the “eraser people,” books disappear from shelves, cars fall from the sky, and Joel is lost on a street that never seems to be going in the right direction. All of these elements of cinematography make this film an excellent example of when a cinematographer can mix realistic and formalistic styles to create a look that still flows with the story of the film.
Another concentration that screams at me during this film is the mise en scene employed throughout the film. One of the most obvious things that stuck out to me was Clementine’s crazy hair. Its obvious that her hair changes several times throughout the film (she even admits this in the beginning of the film), but most people might not realize that she changes her hair color at major turning points in the story. When she first meets Joel, for the very first time, her hair is green. After their first meeting she changes her hair to red. Her hair stays red the entire time she knows Joel. When she has her memory wiped she changes her hair again to blue. Ironically, she is changing her hair color, just as she is changing the plot. She starts the conflict in the story when she meets Joel, then she gets her memory wiped thereby creating the conflict in the story. Her hair is the only hair that changes because she is the one who is in control of the plot, everyone else is simply a follower. Another hair scheme is also clearly visible throughout the film, but not nearly as obvious. At first glance, it seems that all of the characters besides Clementine have dark hair. Actually there are three exceptions to the dark hair: Clementine, Rob, and Mary. Clementine is the Ring Master of the film and thus has crazy hair colors. This does not explain the light haired Rob and Mary. The only significant thing that both of these characters did was reveal the memory erasing with the use of the yellow papers. These two characters are the informers of the story and thus receive a near angel status. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak even mentions to Joel that “you weren’t supposed to see this.” These dark haired characters are essentially keeping the other characters in the dark about what’s going on. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak has a touch of grey at the end of his sideburns. This is because he reluctantly tells Mary what he did to her, but only does this because he is caught.
The mise en scene and the movement in this film almost seem to go hand in hand. In Joel’s memories, the Camera moves onto whatever Joel is focusing on. Moving from Joel to a subject and then back again. When Joel is out of his memories and with Clementine, she is the one that controls the camera and where it goes. As soon as they begin talking she is given complete control of the camera and the focus of the frame. Clementine, it seems, attempts to be the ringleader of the film. The camera obeys her spontaneousness.
The sound in the film is by far one of the most interesting parts of it. The sound in this film actually remind me of the visuals in The Matrix. In The Matrix the audience is unsure if the main character is dreaming or awake as the shots cut from him waking up, to him waking up again. Personally I think this is similar to what Joel is experiencing. When Joel is going through his “memory” sound effects and outside sounds are mixed with the audio from his memory. Joel thinks that he’s in a dream, but he is really experiencing the past. Through the sounds of the outside characters talking, he learns that they are erasing his memories and that a guy named Patrick is trying to assume his identity and steal Clementine from him. This happens because he really isn’t in a dream at all, but still a participant in what is happening in the real world. Another example occurs when he wants the erasing to stop and all he can hear is the song that is playing in the room. These sounds are presented in an extremely unique way to the audience. Sounds overlap one another in memories and in the real world suggesting a blending of the two which contradicts the cinematography.
The ideology of the film is also rather interesting. As Joel resizes that his memories are being erased he attempts to stop it from happening by running with Clementine through his memories. As this happens, the Clementine in the real world gets really upset, Patrick comes over and they retreat to a memorable place. Clementine gets upset and they leave. The drive home is the last point at which the audience sees Clementine with Patrick. This suggests that Clementine actually “leaves” Patrick to help Joel save his memories. Its as if while Joel is having his memory erased, they are connected through their love for one another. Clementine begins remember key things, like laying down on the ice and the word “nice.” She also comes “alive” inside of Joel’s memories. She starts offering Joel suggestions on how to stop the erasing. This film is idealistic because they are “connected” to one another, regardless of location and state of mind. This is perhaps symbolic to two lovers who have died. While one of them is dead, they are still connected to one another. When they both die, they find each other.
When I started thinking about what concentration of film I was going to focus on, I tried to find the most “important” area of the film. The part that stuck out. The part that was an absolute necessity. I then realized that all of them were equally important. I choose to write about Cinematography, Mis en Scene, Movement, Sound, and Ideology; which just happened to stick out to me the most. Without the Editing, Acting, Drama, Hero’s Journey, Story, and Writing; however, the areas that I wrote about would have been nothing but stupid techniques with no meaning behind them. If there has been anything that I’ve learned from this course, it has been the simple fact that a film requires much more than good Acting or Good Editing. It requires the whole kit-and-caboodle. The whole shebang. I think this film is one of the best I’ve ever seen, because, in my opinion, it includes the whole shebang. And that, my friends, is a wrap.