Script review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

posted 2/25/03

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Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman                        
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Script date: Unknown

Film release date: Fall 2003

I happened to check in with one of our affiliates,, and was shocked to see that they just had this script in PDF format, just sitting there, like it wasn’t a goldmine—Charlie Kaufman, people! And then I get to the end of the script and see “Brought to you by” Which means that not one, but two of our affiliates were holding out on me. Bastages. (Just kidding!)

So that’s the origin of the script. It’s 121 pages in PDF, but I burnt through all that in roughly an hour; I spent most of that reading with my mouth hanging open, and several times I teared up a little. This is a fantastic script, folks. I’m sure it’s probably best to read a script without knowing much about the physical production of the film, but in this case, I think it was a bonus to be familiar with the cast—five bucks says that the ebullient-yet-abusive, “zaftig” Clementine was written for Kate Winslet, because I cannot begin to imagine anyone else playing her. The rest of the cast is less obvious but no less inspired—particularly Jim Carrey (who will presu-mably be in
Truman Show dramatic mode), because as I understand it, it was written for Nicolas Cage, and I really do not think I can take two Kaufman films with a mumbly neurotic Cage (Oscar-nominated or not) in a row.

Here’s the thing I love about this script: someone wise once told me that character
is plot. That is, if your characters are fleshed out enough, all you have to do is put them in a room together and things will start to happen. And basically, that is what hap-pens in Eternal Sunshine: Clementine (Winslet) has had Joel (Carrey) “erased” from her memory in a new medical procedure, and when Joel finds out, he decides to have her erased in kind. So Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) set up the equipment in his apartment to erase the memories as he sleeps, but by the end of the night, Joel will rebel against the procedure and start “hiding” Clementine in unre-lated memories; Patrick will reveal that he has been engaging in some incredibly unethical activities; Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) will be forced to come to the apartment to try and “catch” Clementine; Mary, his infatuated receptionist (Kirsten Dunst) will reveal her love for the doctor and make a shocking discovery in return. And all of this has happened by page 70—I can’t even begin to tell you where it goes from there.

And yet, even as they’re all in and out of this one room, it’s a story that races across time and space, backwards and forwards and I think maybe even sideways. But none of that would be worth a damn if Kaufman hadn’t peopled his story with characters you actually come to care about (very quickly, too), and that jump out with fully fleshed-out personalities from page one—and not just gimmicky collections of quirks, either.

And there’s still two twists at the end of the script, each of which deal with a different question: Should memories be kept no matter how painful (or thrown away, on the other hand, no matter how happy)? And is love unconquerable, or is history (as Mary keeps reminding the others) just doomed to repeat itself? But neither one is that trendy sort of twist-for-the-sake-of-a-twist; they arise organically out of the characters and their previous interactions, multiplying the poignance of what we’ve seen come before. In a nutshell: This one has just rocketed to the top of my list of movies I can’t wait to see.
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