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SYFY WIRE Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine Director Made Wild Request of Jim Carrey Ahead Of the Film's Shoot

Michel Gondry wanted to root the melancholy of poor Joel Barish in the tragedy of real-world heartache.

By Josh Weiss

Let's talk about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, shall we? Nearly two decades after its release, the film (which can be found on Peacock, if you're looking for a stroll down *ahem* memory lane) remains a timelessly poignant exploration of heartbreak, loneliness, and humanity's innate desire for emotional connection.

The genre aspect — coming in the form of a fictional service that allows one to surgically erase painful memories from their psyche — is both subtle and perfectly executed, never overpowering the intimate narrative centered around the introverted Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and his impulsive girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet, who nabbed an Oscar nod for this role).

Every single aspect of the feature — from Charlie Kaufman's winding and Oscar-winning screenplay; to verisimilitude of the core performances; to Michel Gondry's playful direction — works in perfect harmony to create something unique.

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Carrey in particular stands out as the melancholic Joel, playing against the rubber-faced antics of those films that had made him a comedy icon in the decade prior: Ace Ventura, Dumb and DumberThe Mask, The Cable Guy, and Liar Liar.

Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

As he did with The Truman Show five years before, Carrey proved himself to be more than just a living cartoon of near-limitless kinetic energy. He could be vulnerable and morose, showing the same amount conviction for a dramatic role that he would for one requiring hilariously contorted features and talking butt cheeks. In other words, the dude has range!

But in the case of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey's solemn portrayal of romantic longing went beyond the usual Hollywood fakery. Not long before production got underway, Carrey had ended his brief, yet memorable, relationship with actress Renée Zellweger (the two met on the set of Me, Myself and Irene).

"I was very heartbroken," he explains in the 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (now streaming on Netflix). "And that was really just about that feeling of being, ‘My God, I have to erase this from my mind.’ And also the feeling that that person had erased you. I felt like I had been erased."

That stinging loss was fresh in his mind when he first sat down with Gondry to discuss the part of Joel. The filmmaker hoped to use Carrey's heartbroken and depressed state to the picture's advantage and, as a result, made a rather impudent request of his leading man.

“When I met Michel Gondry, he looked at me over lunch and he said, ‘Oh my God, you’re so beautiful. You are so beautiful right now. You’re so broken. I love this. Please don’t get well,'" Carrey remembers in the documentary. "Because the movie wasn’t shooting for another year. So he asked me not to get well [laughs]. That’s how f***ed up this business is."

Gondry purportedly went so far as to cast Ellen Pompeo as Naomi — the woman Joel dated before Clementine — because she bore a resemblance to Zellweger. This, of course, rankled Carrey, whose annoyance only grew when Pompeo's scene ended up on the cutting room floor (the theatrical version only mentions the character in passing). 

“I was pretty hurt,” he told Vanity Fair in 2019. "Michel likes to have real feelings in the scene and real chemistry, so he hired Ellen Pompeo, who’s a wonderful actress. But she reminded me completely of Renée. Her look was similar. And I said, Bastard! And it ends up that she’s not even in the movie."

Gondry, on the other hand, begged to differ, asserting: "I don’t think they look alike."

With all of that said, Carrey did ultimately concede that axing Naomi's appearance was for the best. "We actually had really good chemistry. It was odd,” he said. “It was almost too much. If it had been in the movie, it’s competing [with Clementine].”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is now streaming on Peacock.

Originally published May 5, 2023.