Save the Cat! Goes to the movies (21) Out Of The Bottle: Enternal Sunshine of the Sotless Mind (2004)


Sometimes the magic is like an acid trip. But just because the word “trip” is involved doesn’t mean you went anywhere. In director Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the tale is less journey than psychedelic brain-scrub in the OOTB sub-genre “Surreal Bottle.” In this category – Save theEnternal Sunshine of the Sotless Mind 2004 whether it’s playing with time in The Butterfly Effect or changing the rules of fate like in Groundhog Day – the movies all feel like “a dream”, But each ends with the hero learning what all heroes of the OOTB movie discover: that things were pretty good back in “real” life.

Featuring a toned-down Jim Carrey, an amped-up Kate Winslet, and written by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation), who is best known as a screenwriting iconoclast, the film asks the question: Can you erase the memory of love and defy fate? Thanks to the sci-fi-ish Lacuna Inc. (“lacuna” defined by Webster’s as “a gap or place where something is missing”), Jim will try to do just that, and x out the memory of a relationship gone wrong. Midway through the process Jim regrets his decision, and together he and Kate will try to save their love. What follows is a mad dash across the mindscape that pur-portedly abandons the boring old three-act screenplay structure.

But does it?

You decide.

OOTB Type: Surreal Bottle

OOTB Cousins: It’s a Wonderful Life, Heaven Can Wait, Field of Dreams, Scrooged, Groundhog Day, Pleasantville, The Butterfly Effect, Primer, Sliding Doors, The Famiy Man


Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman

Story by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth

Opening Image: Joel Barish (]im Carrey) wakes, not sure where he is. He goes out to his car and finds it dented. It’s Valentine’s Day. (“A day designed to make people feel like crap.”) Jim skips work and gets on a train to Montauk. He finds pages ripped out of his sketchbook: “It appears this is my first entry in two years.”

Theme Stated: On the way back, Jim meets Clementine (Kate Winslet). She says: “I can’t tell from one minute to the next what l’m going to like, but right now I’m glad you’re here.” That is our theme: the battle between the ideal and the real.

Set-Up: Turns out Jim and Kate were lovers. What we are seeing is the day after Jim had his memory of her erased. Now he gives Kate a ride home, and, as strangers, they fall in love all over again. Only after dropping Kate off does Jim sense trouble. A stranger (Elijah Wood) appears asking: “Can I help you with something ?”

Catalyst: We now go back to the day that Jim headed home to begin the Lacuna Inc. process. He’ll take a sleeping pill, lie down in bed, and await the Lacuna team to come in and erase his memory of Kate. A neighbor Jim meets in his mailroom mentions that Valentine’s Day is getting close.

Debate: What’s going on? As Jim re-lives that mailroom scene, we flash back to how he learned of this amazing process. A friend (David Cross) tells Jim that Lacuna Inc. erased Kate’s memory of him. Jim storms into the ramshackle office, meets perky office assistant Mary (Kirsten Dunst) and the inventor of the Lacuna procedure, Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). Jim demands an explanation and learns that Kate wanted him gone.

Break into Two: At Minute 27, Jim decides to do likewise and is told to collect everything connected to Kate so they can destroy all evidence of her. This explains why his sketchbook is missing two years of entries – the length of their relationship. Now, with Jim asleep, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and the mysterious stranger we’ll know as Patrick (Elijah Wood) arrive to oversee the brain scrub. More flashbacks as we learn how Jim and Kate met for the first time: in Montauk at a beach party with friends. We also see how their initial happiness devolved into alcohol-soaked co-dependence. Time begins to cut out; is Jim conscious or not? Hearing the name Patrick makes Jim resist the memory erase. It was the name Jim heard when he visited a post-scrub Kate at work.

B Story: There are multiple B stories, all dealing with love. Elijah is the Confidant; he was present when Kate underwent her procedure and is using what he learned about her life with Jim to woo her. We also see Mark and Kirsten flirt when she drops by – and Elijah ducks out to have a Valentines date with Kate. But the main B story is Kirsten’s crush on Dr. Mierzwiak. The fallout of their relationship will kick the A story into Act Three, where the theme is clarified.

Fun and Games: We have two worlds at play now. Up top, in “real” life, Kate and Elijah go out for Valentine’s Day. But in his mind, Jim is having second thoughts about the erasure. Having sensed something is not kosher with this Patrick character, Jim chases Kate in his imaginary world to convince her to come back to him, and to keep his memories of her intact. But even in his mind, she’s still mad at him and eludes him as scenes of their relationship vanish. This is the “promise of the premise” as Jim runs through his imagination, from memory to memory, trying to understand The Rules in order to stop Kate from being expunged.

Midpoint: At Minute 54, Jim yells, “I want to call this off!” In “real” life, Elijah takes Kate out and repeats a line Jim used; Kate realizes something’s wrong, but doesn’t know what. This is the “false victory” turn, as back in Jim’s mind, his memory version of Kate agrees to help him. Their only hope is to look for spots in Jim’s mind where the erasure process won’t find her.

Bad Guys Close In: Flashback to Jim’s childhood, as Kate and Jim don many guises. Bad guys (in this case the Lacuna process) search and destroy Jim’s memories. There is conflict too as Mark and Kirsten discover Jim’s brain erase is off track. Dr. Mierzwiak is called to Jim’s house to fix the problem.

All Is Lost: Looking for a place in his memory to hide her, Jim and Kate find a day as a boy when he killed a bird (“whiff of death”). As two little kids, like narrators observing this incident, they know they can’t hang onto their love for long.

Dark Night of the Soul: Left alone with Dr. Mierzwiak, Kirsten quotes the Alexander Pope poem from which the title of the movie stems. Kirsten tries to kiss Dr. Mierzwiak, who resists her as Mark watches through the window. Then Dr. Mierzwiak’s wife shows up and spills the beans: Kirsten and the Doc had an affair. Even though Kirsten had her memory of the affair erased, she is doomed to keep repeating her behavior. The Lacuna process does not work.

Break into Three: Jim and Kate relive the day they met. “I wish I’d stayed,” he says. “I wish I’d done a lot of things.” Before she vanishes, Kate whispers: “Meet me in Montauk.” A and B stories cross as a spurned Kirsten steals Jim’s and Kate’s files.

Finale: We return to the beginning with Jim waking, memory erased. He gets up, goes to Montauk, and meets Kate. But they now get a real second chance: Kirsten has sent files to all Mierzwiak’s clients. Hearing tapes of themselves describing their past relationship, the brain-scrubbed Kate and Jim realize they already met and failed at love. Should they consider it again?

Final Image: Jim and Kate recommit. Synthesis! What they had adds to what they learned. Eyes opened, they will try once more.


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