Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Michel Gondry often described as the ‘Master of Time and Space’ has established his works as experiments in constructing new definitions of visual space. He remains a firm believer in crafting his cinematic spaces through traditional methods in set design, building his own sets, often utilizing the use of mirrors towards the expansion of space. Michel Gondry is also known for using perspective in set design to trick the viewers’ eyes. For example, in a music video he directed for Chemical Brother – Let Forever Be. Gondry constructs an infinite space with the help of fluid camera transiting the actor from one dimension to another.

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry again experiments and explains the law of physics – Ames room in constructing a space to mimic a forced perspective. It is a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is. It manipulates human visual perception through the use of scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera.

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this manipulation of space to contrast the expression of scale was especially symbolic, because the expansion of the kitchen space and the reduction of Joel physical size was aligned to the narrative of him hiding within the scape of his childhood memories.

Besides working within the field of set design and optical illusion, Michel Gondry is also known for his application of light, which in turn directly affects the colours of the space in order to establish contrast, depth and emotive qualities. Here in the bookstore sequence, Gondry the use of flat lighting seems to endow the bookstore with expanded and yet uncertain amount of vastness, in turn shrinking the sets as the lighting is converter into a more singular, artificial and flash-like improvisation, eventually limiting the audience’s visibility to only Joel’s face. This helped to create a sense of narrowing in our vision, through the darkening of the background, which is actually symbolic for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as the bookstore becomes a metaphor for Joel’s depleting (or darkening) memory space.

This effect is known as visual perception, whereby Gondry creates a path for our eyes to move from an environment space into a keen focus on the character. He has continued this visual exercise in the expansion and constriction of visual space throughout the movie, especially during the scenes where Joel’s subconscious is racing against the rate of his dissolving memory. While there isn’t a consistent colours palette for the film, there is an overall sense of the softening of hues, expressing through a neutral and pastel scheme of colour. The conditioning of colour in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a tool used to perhaps portray the hazy days of being in love, when one day blends into the next, similar to the way we remember. The pale backdrop of the environments are often contrasted by the darker tones of clothing that are worn by the protagonists, to not only signify the importance of their presence in the overall scheme of things, but also to create an implied distance, and in turn giving the characters a heightened expression of dimensionality. Because in a way, the protagonists’ existence are dimensions in the space of memory that is a constant metaphor for physical space in the film.

The pastel treatment to the overall colour scheme did help to paint the romanticized depictions of Joel and Clementine’s relationship. However, as we follow the story, we realize that this happiness is temporary and often turns into more difficult emotions. In which these scenes are then expressed as darken tones of colour that blend into a dense and blur smudge of light and shadow.

Besides using artificial lightings to constrict space, there are also select scenes in the movie where Gondry utilizes naturalistic lighting, which often gives off an even distribution of illumination on space, and therefore allows us to see clearly into the distance. It is this function of naturalistic lighting that helps to stretch and expand spaces in nature, in establishing Joel and Clementine’s desire to be together for an determine, and possibly limitless amount of time. In which such depictions of landscape through the reliance of naturalistic lighting, can actually give the feeling of vast horizontal ground and deep lengths into an imagined vertical distance.