I doubt anyone who’s read a few of my books will find it too surprising that I’m a fan of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Nor indeed surprised that I count it as a romance, ambiguous though its ending may be. I skew open-ended myself. That’s no secret…and possibly a euphemism.
Eternal Sunshine is a hard to classify film. At the video store where I worked as a teenager, we would’ve debated long and hard where to shelve it—drama? Sci-fi? Cult? Though it’s not quite any of those, singularly. It’s of a type with Being John Malkovich, at once funny and sad, realistic personalities and setting coupled with an utterly out-there premise. It was directed by Michel Gondry, and if you don’t think you know his work, go ahead and Google him and I bet you’ll prove yourself wrong. Or else find yourself saying, “I thought Spike Jonze did that!”
At any rate, I’m going to shelf this film as wonkomance, and I’ll tell you why. Without the romantic relationship, there would be no crucible to contain the story’s quirky science fictiony element, which in my mind officially makes it a romance. (If you took the sci-fi elements out, however, there’d still be enough substance left over to cobble together a decent drama.) Add to that romantic base the premise, characters, and overall execution, and it’s twisted seven ways from Sunday—hence, wonkomance.
Here’s the basic gist: Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) are a couple. A very intense and fraught couple of about two years (kinda, I think, maybe, except that…or did they…?) who spend the movie trying to get over each other by undergoing medical memory-erasing procedures. We’ve all been in one of those relationships, right? Minus the brain-scrubbing?
Joel is not your typical romance hero. He’s awkward, shy, cautious, and probably mildly depressed, alternately a chilly, stand-offish bore and an apologetic doormat who cries his share of man-tears. Overbearing alpha-male achiever he is not. We never even find out what he does for a living, actually, though judging from his apartment, I suspect he’s not a billionaire entrepreneur or a sheikh.
Clementine is a heroine after my own heart. An impulsive, reactionary, annoying, tactless, creepy, defensive, aimless, pushy, needy, borderline alcoholic. I wish I’d written her! She’s got poorly dyed blue—and green and orange and red—hair, sneaks shots of Jagermeister into her coffee at the diner, falls to pieces at the drop of a hat, sculpts effigies out of potatoes, and occasionally drives drunk.
In short, I’m pretty sure Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman didn’t consult any romance genre how-to books when they constructed these protagonists. But I’m stoked they didn’t, because fucked up people are so much more interesting to torture and redeem.
I gave this movie an A when I saw it in the theater, and I’m giving it as A as of my latest viewing, last night. If you’re in the mood for a quirky, heartbreaking, artsy (but not too fartsy), sweet yet utterly fucked wonkomantic movie, it has my stamp of approval.
Bonus materials: Jim Carrey looks awful handsome in a knit cap and there’s an excellent cameo by Boston’s own Charles River (which, if you’re not sure, is an actual river, not a guy named Charles River. Note to self—name future hero Charles River.)
Super sad I can’t embed the trailer but sharing’s disabled on YouTube, so somebody’s copyright infringement department must be earning their keep. But if you have Netflix, go check the whole movie out on Instant Watcher!