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Is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a horror movie?

08.18.2017by: Eric Walkuski

Focus Features is celebrating 15 years of existence in style this summer, with a bevy of cool screenings and events that show love toward some of their prestige titles. Via partnerships with Rooftop Cinema Club and Alamo Drafthouse, Focus is showing the likes of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, EASTERN PROMISES, IN BRUGES, and ATONEMENT - to name a few - and showing them in fairly creative ways, giving audiences choice opportunities to revisit some of their favorite films in unique ways.

Case in point: Last weekend, Focus and Alamo set up a very ambitious event for hardcore fans of Michel Gondry's ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND in Montauk, New York, where some of the film's key moments take place. In addition to taking said fans to various of the film's locations (including the large beachside house where Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet's characters break in and help themselves), Focus set up a killer screening of the film inside Montauk's famed Gurney's restaurant, complete with complimentary food, drinks, sweaters and mattresses which enabled folks to stretch out in style. Originally, a screening of the film was supposed to take place outside on the beach, but unkind weather forced the event indoors. Not quite as magical, but still a very enjoyable way to take in Gondry's bizarre dramady. Focus and Alamo really treated their guests right, and that included a sumptuous buffet containing every possible meat and fish.

Every event screening should be so impressively-mounted.

The movie itself is such an oddity. Truth be told, I hadn't seen it in at least 10 years. I remembered the big moments and famous visuals - Jim Carrey floundering in an oversized sink, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst dancing in their underwear over a sleeping Carrey, Carrey and Winslet laying on a frozen lake - but so much of it had escaped my memory - which I suppose is fitting for a movie about memories being snatched from you - that watching it in this setting was somewhat like watching it for the first time.

The film has a clever premise about a man named Joel (Carrey) who seeks to wipe out every last memory he has of his ex-girlfriend, the impulsive, outspoken Clementine (Kate Winslet). But the story is made all the more clever by how Charlie Kaufman's script unfolds in a series of seemingly interlocking scenes that begin to take on the shape of a real-time dream. Or nightmare, if you prefer. I had never really thought of ETERNAL SUNSHINE as a horror film before, but in plenty of ways it surely is. The horror of a broken love affair is all too relatable for most, but when shoved into the skewed prism of Kaufman's morbidly funny script and presented by Gondry with a disorienting, cinema verite spirit, we're thrust fairly convincingly into one man's head as he struggles to hide his one last good memory of his ex somewhere else in his jumbled brain. And it's not the most fun place to be.

I had forgotten how chilling some of the film is, and not just because of what it says about the nature of relationships. (How many people wouldn't at least give the science in the film a shot for the right price?) There are sequences within ETERNAL SUNSHINE that are pure nightmare fuel, featuring visions that are so unnerving they leap past mere dream imagery and enter horror movie territory. Those people without faces? The moment when the back of a head cannot be turned around? A tiny Joel whining under a table, baby-like? While it is rightly hailed for its imaginative looks at the highs and lows of love and separation, ETERNAL SUNSHINE is can be a pretty disquieting experience. Consider even the fact that the Carrey character is hovered over by a fairly immoral group while he's trapped in his dream-state, with one of them (Elijah Wood) being the very creepy and potentially dangerous new paramour of his ex-lover. Carrey walks away unscathed, at least physically, but think about what these impulsive weirdos might have done to someone else?

And that's to say nothing of Tom Wilkinson's mad scientist character, the inventor of the machine, who has sex with his underling (Dunst) and then wipes away her memory of the event. Charlie Kaufman's Oscar-winning screenplay boldly presents us with an array of really disturbed individuals who're looking for love in all the wrong places, as they say, and all of whom wind up enveloping themselves in their own personal hells. (Kaufman is of course responsible for another gripping and freaked-out trapped-in-a-head comic-horror film, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.)

It's hard to believe so many happy couples came to this event! I joked with a colleague recently that the film is almost the anthesis of a date movie, and yet it is beloved by romantics.

But that's a testament to the show put on by Gondry, Kaufman and the terrific cast; ETERNAL SUNSHINE is such an unusual concoction that it's no matter if you view it as a tragic love story or a trippy mindf*ck; you walk away without doubt that you'll never see anything like it again. It's a tremendous piece of filmmaking, one that I can now attest is unforgettable.

For more information on Focus Features' 15 Anniversary screening series, head over HERE. To purchase ETERNAL SUNSHINE on Blu-ray, head HERE.

Extra Tidbit: What's your take? You buying ETERNAL SUNSHINE as a horror film?

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