Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ★★★★½

Preface: Most people say they love this film for Charlie Kaufman, but I love it for Michel Gondry. He's a strange man with a strange body of work, but he's probably the director who has inspired me like no other. I aspire to create even a fraction of what his wild imagination and talent has brought to this world. I've come to deeply love his style, and I was nervous Eternal Sunshine might not hold up all these years later...
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The story of Eternal Sunshine is brilliant, insane, and emotional, and the filmmaking absolutely follows suit. The film is chaotically edited with a flurry of camera angles, but the handheld framing is always on-point. The resulting effect is that we're actually experiencing sporadic, intimate moments as Joel remembers them, jumping from one moment to the next with no sense of the time lapsed between each scene, or even the time between cuts in the same scene. It's a brilliant decision, and keeps the film constantly suspended in some kind of timeless limbo.

The sound design is spectacularly detailed. Gondry uses a bizarre barrage of background sound effects to disorient the viewer throughout the film, keeping the audio stream constantly full of life and energy, but somehow never overwhelming. Oftentimes, he even inserts faint hints to surreally reflect Joel's subconsciousness, like whispers from old conversations or a suppressed warning alarm. And that's not even to mention the gorgeously Gondry-esque score, simultaneously playful yet melancholic, full of wonder and dissonance. With a good sound system, the entire film becomes a sheer masterpiece of an auditory experience.

The lighting isn't scared of the dark. When it's important to see things, we see them. But everything else? So many visual elements are annoyingly obscured in shadow, on purpose. It's a great way to visually portray the shadows of our minds and memories. It's also fascinating how much of this film is directed like a horror film. Total, suffocating dread, purely through the music, the lighting, and a few choice effects.

The wonderfully goofy production design carries the homemade signature of Gondry with an appropriate professional sleekness. This is especially apparent in the eclectically-detailed props and the set design that alternates between cluttered, lived-in reality and terrifyingly distorted surreality. I love the scene in the bookstore when the books are being forgotten, so the prop crew turned around all the books so the shelves were lined with white pages instead of books spines, and they put white paper over the covers. Just fun, clever low-budget filmmaking. And throughout the rest of the film, the coloring is really powerful, especially with the emotional blues or yellows in key scenes.

And lastly, the script. The nonlinear structure is mind-bending, the intriguing premise is explored fully before being fully exploded, and even the most minor characters and dialogue details are complexly realistic and vital to the story. The emotions and story beats are heartbreaking and breathtaking. The overall, completed project fits elegantly between Being John Malkovich and The Science of Sleep, easily taking the best of both films to synthesize something far superior to either. Charlie Kaufman is one of the best of his medium, and with Michel Gondry's direction, this film has become one of the best in its medium as well.

Yeah, I think it held up on rewatch.

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