Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-A Fantastical Journey to Empathy
Joel Barish sits in a propped up examination-type chair with a large off-white saucer shaped ring positioned perfectly around his head with a silver metal tray resting right in front of him. Stan Fink, one of “most experienced and skilled technicians” at ABC, and Dr. Howard Mierzwiak engage in what seems to be preparatory procedures across from Joel. “Comfortable?” Stan asks Joel. “What we’re doing here Mr. Barish is actually creating a map of your brain. I want you to react to these objects Mr. Barish, if you will.” Stan then reaches over and places a small snow globe onto the silver tray in front of him. The camera quickly switches to a close-up of the small Christmas time staple. It reads “BOSTON” on the front while artificial snowflakes trickle down slowly through the thick gel-like liquid that surrounds a Christmas tree and snowy mountain. The shot shoots to look at Joel. “There’s a good story behind this we—”. “Ah, you know actually Mr. Barish I’ll actually get a much better emotional read if you refrain from any sort of verbal description of the items, just try to focus on the memories,” Stan says. Joel, taken back, remains quiet, allowing only his mind to speak. The shot jumps to Stan, who begins examining what appears to be a diagram of Joel’s brain on a computer screen. Similar to your seventh grade science book, the outline of Joel’s brain appears grayish-white, with small green spots dancing in the body of his brain. We see Joel, whose face now reflects a panicked fright, quivering as he looks at his brain on the screen across from him. Gears change into a full throttle chaos of Joel’s emotional reactions to each object. Stan places the next object on the silver inmate-like tray: a big stuffed pillow then two knick-knacky potato-head miniature statues. Joel is shaking, he is scared. The shot repeats yet this time from Joel’s perspective, the camera mimicking his eyes looking at the statues. A red haze, perhaps the laser beams that dash into both Joel’s temples, suddenly clutters the shot. We, amidst this red haze, become first-hand witnesses to Joel Barish’s nightmare. Stan’s voice repeats in a static, unclear sound: “focus on the memories”. Joel is being force fed objects in order to regurgitate emotional attachments. The objects that have garnered significant obsessions are being stolen from his memory. Stolen from him. Stripped. A nightmare, no doubt.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry, displays an odd story of two lovers, Joel and Clementine, who embark on a journey of erasing one another from their minds, literally. Clementine unexpectedly gets “the procedure” done while Joel quickly follows once he hears word of what she has done: an ironic tale of love with a plot that by itself keeps viewers engaged. Through an incredibly unique editing technique and use of special effects, Gondry proves himself as a bold and risk-taking director. A New York Times review explains how he melts “several bad dreams into one, and Mr. Gondry’s swift, improvised direction bleaches the portentous from the conception” (Mitchell). He pieces scenes together in such a way that affects the viewer to the extent in which they feel they’re dreaming; just as Joel (while undergoing the procedure) embarks into a world filled with both past reality and fictional memories, we too enter a world of fantasy and the unthinkable. And it is Gondry’s fantastical take on reality that allows Sunshine to truly affect its viewers, letting one empathize with Joel and his given struggle to hold on to his memories. Gondry’s choices keep viewers interested and vulnerable. Take for example the heavily recurring special effect of Joel being enclosed by a literal darkness or haze throughout the film, leaving merely his face in isolation on the screen. In one particular scene, the first time Joel sees Clementine after she...
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