Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Considering what a fan I am of this series and The Film Experience in general, it’s about time we at The Awards Circuit got in on Hit Me With Your Best Shot! For those of you who are unfamiliar, fellow cinema lover and awesome blogger Nathaniel Rogers schedules a series of films over a period of several months and extends an open invitation to all readers and film writers to share their favorite single shots from the scheduled movie and talk about it. It’s been a running tradition at TFE for over three years now, and reached such a high level of popularity that even the Melanie Lynskey participated with a write-up on her breakout film Heavenly Creatures.

Imagine my luck to not only be the first Awards Circuit staff writer to participate, but the opening film of Season 5 is none other than my beloved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the truest works of genius of the 21st Century enjoying its tenth anniversary. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s endlessly creative, bittersweet romantic dramedy. I have changed a great deal as a film enthusiast – what I look for, how I critique, what films I have grown to love more or less over time, even how I physically watch a movie – in the years since I started becoming immersed in the artform in college. But some things about me have not changed, and my certainty that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will endure as one of the American masterpieces of my generation is as strong as it was when I first saw it in my sophomore year of high school.

While I could write several thousand words on all the myriad achievements this film manages, one that always gets me is just how emotionally earnest it manages to be through all of its complex and innovative feats of execution. At no point does the movie ever allow itself to forget the painfully romantic ballad of Joel and Clementine as the heart of its story, as much as those two would sometimes wish to forget themselves. Rather than use the messy, sensual, tragic and beautiful collage of their lives together as an excuse to “show off” a repertoire of nifty formal conceits and practical effects, its dizzyingly clever presentation is only used to highlight just how meaningful this ode to love and memory is to the rest of us. No other image demonstrates that, to me, better than this one (about an hour and fifteen minutes in):

HMWYBS Eternal Sunshine

In between two key scenes that always manage to leave me in tears, this one scene – introduced flawlessly by this shot – is probably the moment that I realized this film was a rare treasure even among Great Movies. This is one of many memories that Gondry and editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir just linger on, for no explicit narrative purpose other than to savor it as Joel does. The foggy, soft digital photography of Ellen Kuras is as present as ever here, with a sparse wooden fence taking up the majority of the frame. I always saw that fence as one of those seemingly banal objects that nevertheless end up serving as a reference point to recall those indelible little “moments” in our lives. Way in the upper corner of the frame is Joel and Clementine just goofing off in the snow, and despite being so far off, their joy blasts across the screen for us to feel.

And that really is snow on a beach, by the way; originally they were supposed to play around on a sunny, clear beach. But when the production team traveled to Montauk and discovered the whole area covered in snow, the producers pressured Gondry to cancel the shoot. His determination to complete this scene regardless of weather – just one of dozens of situations where he and his team came very close to diminishing the movie and thankfully chose the right course – results in a landscape as serendipitously magical as a film like this deserves.

Sums up everything about our most precious memories, really: hazy, distant, even a little surreal, but with associated emotions that are as palpable as though they were experienced yesterday.

Be sure to visit The Film Experience at 9:00 PM EST to see great shots that were selected from other movie lovers. Tell us your personal favorite(s) below in the comments!