Monday, June 2, 2014

20 Eternal Sunshine Details You May Have Missed

I must have seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a dozen times since it premiered a decade ago and I still find myself noticing new things with every repeat viewing. Here are 20 such details there's a decent chance you didn't catch the first time through:

1. Opening Confusion
In the first moments of the film Joel looks confused. On my first few viewings I took this for grogginess but in fact this is because he doesn’t recognize the doctor-issued pajamas he is wearing.

2. The Stolen Letter

When Joel is gathering items that remind him of Clem we get a brief look at the letter Patrick later steals. Besides Joel's line about being “exactly where he wants to be” we also can glimpse this response from Clementine:  “When we made love right on the ice it was absolutely freezing on my ass…it was wonderful.”

3. The Same Staircase
When Joel notices the pages missing from his journal he is unwittingly sitting in the spot where he first met Clementine.

4. The Lost Song
The second time Joel meets Clementine he says he’s unfamiliar with  “Oh My Darling, Clementine” even though we later see that he knew it the first time they met. This might be because the memory of when his mother first sang the song to him was obliterated when he tried to hide Clem there to escape the memory erasers.

5. Blank Books 
There are countless subtle erasures during the sequences in Joel’s memories. Examples range from the books going blank in Barnes & Noble to the image of Clem disappearing from Joel’s coffee mug. In the crumbling memory where the car falls from the sky, one of Clementine's legs is missing.

6. Drive-In

When Joel sits crying in his car the night before he decides to get his memory erased, he is parked at the spot where Clem and Joel watched the drive-in movie.

7. Dots
When Joel’s is talking to his neighbor about his Valentine’s Day plans the marker spots from his earlier brain scan are still visible on his temple.

8. Sentimental Road Map
Some of the items that rush by when the Lacuna team is making a map of Joel's memories include a Speedway Auto Racer game, a playbill of Julius Caesar starring Al Pacino, and a copy of Tom Waits "Rain Dogs." In the original script there is dialogue where Joel and Clementine discuss Waits. The name of Clementine's hair color "Blue Ruin" is taken from a track on the album

9. Whispers of a Memory
When Joel visits the beach in the beginning he peers into the house where, unbeknownst to him, he went the first night he met Clem. As he leaves there is the faintest whisper of her voice on the soundtrack. It’s tough to make out but it sounds like Winslet saying “David and Ruth Laskin” just like she did on that night. It is an early, very slight indication that the procedure may not have erased 100% of his memories.

10. Cowgirl
The cowgirl outfit that Young Clementine wears turns up in various scenes throughout the films. It can be spotted on one of Clem’s potato people and in a Polaroid visible during Kate Winslet’s “ugly doll” monologue and the gathering items scene.

11. Drinks
When Joel brings Clementine back to his apartment at the end of the film he is surprised by the lack of liquor in his apartment. This is because the memory erasers drank it the night before.

12. Run Away
Both times Joel meets Clementine he gets nervous and leaves their encounter early.

13. Obsolete Technology
Despite taking place in and around 2003 (Joel's journal confirms the timeframe) much of the technology seen in the film is years out of date. One computer used to erase Joel's memories is an Amstrad model manufactured in the late 80's and Lacuna still records patients on cassette tapes, to name just two examples.

14. Awkward Silences

During the conversation on the train the film’s music score only kicks in while Joel and Clem are talking.

15.  Side Effects
In the scene where Patrick visits an emotional Clementine one of the reasons she lists for her anxiety is the feeling that she's getting old. The line goes by quickly so it's doesn't feel significant but upon reflection it makes perfect sense that she feels like the years are rushing by considering the procedure has zapped out much of her recent memory.

16. "My Skin's Coming Off!"
In the panic attack scene Clem also exclaims that she feels like her skin is coming off. A figure of speech maybe, although perhaps she has a faint memory of the picture Joel painted that depicts her sans skin.

17. Agent Orange

With her hair and signature sweatshirt, Clementine is strongly associated with the color orange, so  the film works in the color in a variety of subtle ways, my favorite being that memories of Clem are represented on Lacuna's brains scans by orange dots.

18. Crash and Burn
The  model plane which David Cross is flying when Joel and Clem first meet reappears destroyed as Joel's last memory is being erased. There are also other, less obvious planes slipped in throughout the film including the planes on "Baby" Joel's pajamas and a framed picture of a plane on the wall of David Cross and Jane Adams' apartment.

19. Losing His Mind
During the baby Joel scene you can spot a drawing on the fridge of a decapitated boy, perhaps reflecting Joel's current struggles with regaining control of his mind. Also note: another plane in the drawing.

20. Final Flickers

As Joel’s final memory is erased there are several flash frames which zip by too quick to register. Here is a sampling:

More "Details You May Have Missed"


  1. Beautifully composed post! I now feel the need to watch this movie again.

  2. Me 2....nice composite, pensive, thoughtful, cinematic!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Wow, I love this movie and haven't picked up on many of these. I think I am desperately in need of a rewatch after reading this list.

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