Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The Shooting Script

Posted: November 19, 2021 in Book reviews

By Charlie Kaufman

When Joel Barish discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski, has used a radical new process to erase any memory of him from her mind, he employs the company behind it, Lacuna, to perform the same procedure on him, but as his memories are erased Joel begins to realise that he doesn’t want to lose Clementine from his life after all, but trapped in his own head can he somehow keep the memory of the woman he loved safe from Lacuna’s invasive procedure?

It would be fair to say that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my top ten films of all time, a film I’ve adored since the first time I saw it at the cinema way back in 2004. A thoughtful meditation on romance and memory, and in many respects one of the most honest films about love there is. A film that manages to be melancholy and happy, nihilistic, and yet hopeful. It could have failed miserably, it could have been too sappy, or too cynical, but it isn’t, it walks a tightrope between the two which results, for me, in one of the most beautiful films ever made.

Having recently re-watched the film for the first time in many years (and reminding myself not to leave it so long next time!) I wondered if the script was available to buy and was thrilled to see that it was. That the book came complete with a foreword by director Michel Gondry and a Q&A with screenwriter Kaufman, plus on set photos, was the icing on the cake.

It’s always interesting to read a script because you can see how a film changes what’s on the page, and despite this being the shooting script there’s a lot in here that we didn’t see in the film, and I have to say it’s hard to see anything that would have made the film any better, and certain scenes happen in a different order to the finished film. Did we really need to see Joel’s ex, Naomi? No, we didn’t, and many speeches are snipped, which helps the film flow—in particular it appears Mary’s use of Lacuna to erase the memory of her love for Dr. Howard Mierzwiak was originally even more fucked up than in the finished film.

There’s interesting anecdotes as well, like how Kaufman originally intended for there to be a prologue and epilogue set in the far future (which seems like a terrible idea) and the fact that the parade scene was a chance occurrence, the parade went past as they were filming and they decided to film Carrey and Winslet in character watching it. Given the parade features elephants, who of course never forget, this seems like a wonderful example of serendipity.

 A treat not only for fans of the film, but for those interested in the mechanics of screenwriting too given how labyrinthine and non-chronological he plot of the film is, and it’s a salient reminder of the strange alchemy that goes into making a great film, because while on the whole Kaufman’s script is fantastic, there are plenty of moments when what’s on the screen is far superior to what’s on the page, and however good Kaufman’s words are, it took Gondry, Carrey, Winslet and a whole raft of other people to create pure gold.

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