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SYFY WIRE Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Why Everything Everywhere All At Once Owes a Debt to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

ESOTSM and EEAAO share a whole lot more than just lengthy titles that cry out of for acronyms. 

By Adam Pockross
Do You Remember When Jim Carrey Ruled the World?

If you really want to get into the head of an artist who makes your own head cave in, then it can be super helpful to look at the artists that first blew that artist’s mind.  

One of the most head-caving movies ever also happens to be last year’s best, at least according to The Academy. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once won Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, and for good reason: it's a brilliant piece of multilayered, multidimensional genre storytelling, that offers meaningful life truths against a backdrop of multiple possible truths. Kind of like another brilliant piece of genre storytelling from years’ past: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (now streaming on Peacock!).

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Of course, it’s no secret that at least half The Daniels, Scheinert specifically, is a huge fan of Michel Gondry’s multilayered, multidimensional 2004 film, starring Jim Carrey as schlubby Joel Barish, a broken man trying to forget the pain caused by the end of his relationship with lovably quirky Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). So what does he do? Well, in this bizarre world, he goes to Lacuna, headed by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), and his bumbling co-horts (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood), to have his memories of Clementine completely erased. Granted, all is fair in love, because Clementine already has no recollection of Joel. Ouch. 

Indeed, Scheinert told us as much about his ESOTSM fandom in his favorite movies list, which he contributed with comments to BFI's 2022 Sight & Sound Best Films of All Time poll (H/T IndieWire). If you’ve seen the beautiful mishmash that is EEAAO then you probably won’t be surprised how wildly eclectic his list is, with everything from ESOTSM, to Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, to David Wain and Michael Showalter’s comedy classic, Wet Hot American Summer. But while the list isn’t ordered, Scheinert lets us know in the comments ESOTSM comes first: “My undisputed champion. Shout out to Charlie Kaufman of course.”

The Kaufman influence

Kaufman is, of course, the evil genius behind the wild thought experiment that is ESOTSM. And that shout out likely means The Daniels have seen at least a couple more of Kaufman’s head-caving gems, like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, which could probably be seen as influential if one was doing an auteur study. Certainly Scheinert’s love of ESOTSM made its way in, and what makes its way into the artist must assuredly make its way out of their art. So it’s no surprise that you can see the film’s influence on EEAAO (and not just in the lengthy titles that cry out of for acronyms). 

Granted, that’s not just our opinion, but the esteemed A.O. Scott’s too, as he wrote in his exuberant New York Times review: “This whirligig runs on tenderness and charm. As in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Pixar’s Inside Out, the antic cleverness serves a sincere and generous heart. Yes, the movie is a metaphysical multiverse galaxy-brain head trip, but deep down — and also right on the surface — it’s a bittersweet domestic drama, a marital comedy, a story of immigrant striving and a hurt-filled ballad of mother-daughter love.”

RELATED: From 'Halloween' to 'EEAAO': Jamie Lee Curtis's best genre roles, ranked

Just like EEAAO, ESOTSM is way more than the sum of a bunch of unapologetic genre parts. Domestic drama, check. Romantic comedy, check. Unexpressed and misunderstood love story that somehow manages to make you believe in the power of love, check. The film rightly garnered a Best Writing, Original Screenplay award for Kaufman (screenplay/story), Gondry (story), and Pierre Bismuth (story), as well as a well-deserved Best Actress nod for Winslet (though Carrey’s efforts certainly merited such accolades, as well). More importantly though, it continues to delight audiences, and inspire future filmmakers, like the Scheinert, who, along with fellow Daniel, Kwan, has in turn made another film that delights and inspires. And so on, and so on.  

Get entertained and inspired by the brilliantly head-caving classic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, now streaming on Peacock!