"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which opened 10 years ago this week (on March 19, 2004), was just your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-has-painful-memories-of-girl-scrubbed-from-his-brain story. Of course, the movie was a lot more than that. It put director Michel Gondry on the map, offered Jim Carrey one of his most acclaimed dramatic roles, and became beloved among moviegoers who appreciated its poetic, funny, and sad take on romance.
"Eternal Sunshine" was a modest hit a decade ago; today, it's commonly regarded as one of the best films of the new millennium. Even so, though you may have seen it enough times for it to be permanently implanted in your memory, there are still things you may not know about the film, from its seemingly improvisational shooting process to how unbelievably primitive the special effects were, to how Carrey and Gondry nearly came to blows. Here, then, are 25 of the movie's secrets; come back and read this article again tomorrow, in case you forget them.
1. The title comes from one of history's most painful romances, recounted in the poem "Eloisa to Abelard" by Alexander Pope. In his verse, Eloisa tries to forget the affair:
2. The idea for the film originated with French artist Pierre Bismuth, who was so tired of hearing a female friend's complaints about her boyfriend that he asked if she would erase him from her memory if she could. She answered yes.
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd...
3. Bismuth passed along the idea to his friend Gondry, a drummer-turned-music video-director who had recently directed his first feature, "Human Nature."
4. Gondry, in turn, passed the idea to "Human Nature" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who turned it into the story of Joel and Clementine.
5. Gondry courted Kate Winslet to play Clementine. She was flattered, both by his ardent attention and by the idea that someone had seen beyond her corseted roles in period films to offer her a character as cutting-edge as Clementine.
6. Going in, Winslet was eager for the challenge of working with someone whose acting background was as different from hers as Carrey's was. As she noted, "I have played Ophelia, and he was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."
7. Carrey had similar thoughts about her. "I get excited when the people I work with scare me. She's just scary-talented and just an amazing actress."
8. Another literary in-joke: the name of Kirsten Dunst's character, Mary Svevo, comes from Italo Svevo, known for his correspondence with father of psychoanalysis Signmund Freud
9. For Clementine's frequent hair color changes throughout the film, Winslet wore wigs. "I was really up for dying my hair all those different colors but, you know, a movie is shot out of sequence, so literally some days I would start with red and then by lunch time I would be blue, and then the afternoon I'd be going back to red again."
10. Though the movie's special effects have the seamless look of CGI, they're really much more primitive. For instance, the sequence under the kitchen table, where the adult actors appear to be the same size as the children, was done using similar forced-perspective tricks as those used in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to make the hobbits look shorter -- sets built at tricky angles and oversized props and furniture.
11. The most astonishing sequence may be the one where Joel visits the Lacuna office while experiencing the memory of a previous visit. The camera pans back and forth between Carrey at the door and Carrey seated across the room, wearing another outfit. There was no trick photography involved; Carrey simply raced back and forth from one side of the room to the other, changing his clothes along the way, arriving in position before the camera panned to him. Carrey complained to Gondry that the shot would be impossible, to which Gondry responded by asking him how he could know if he didn't try. According to co-star Mark Ruffalo, the shot took half a day to rehearse and six takes to get right.
12. Gondry and Winslet performed a similar feat for the shot where Clementine pops from bathroom to kitchen to front door, with the actress outracing the camera to be in the right place at the right time.
13. Gondry encouraged improvisation. The scene where Clementine punches Joel was improvised; Carrey didn't know the blow was coming.
14. In another improvised scene, Ruffalo and Elijah Wood decided to laugh instead of reciting their lines. Gondry jaggedly cut their laughter into the edited scene, for a nicely surreal effect.
15. For further spontaneity, Gondry guided his cameramen through headsets to follow the actors wherever they decided to go, whether they hit their marks or not. "We never had marks," Winslet said. "Everything would change in every take."
16. Gondry made a point of keeping Carrey off balance. "Sometimes I would roll the camera at the wrong time, I would give him the wrong order at the last minute to create some panic, which I do in general with extras because otherwise they become like robots," he said. "So I think by putting him off balance made him forget about what he should do to be the character, and he just became the character."
17. Carrey recalled that the hardest day of the shoot was the day of the hot tub scene because conditions were unpleasant and tensions were high, and he nearly punched Gondry.
18. That night, however, tensions between director and star were defused as they shot footage involving a pajama-clad Carrey riding in a bed mounted on a Volkswagen chassis, singing an Elvis Presley-style song called "Pecan Pie" as he pulled into a New Jersey gas station for a refill. The result was released as a 90-second short called "Pecan Pie."
19. Gondry's pursuit of the happy accident climaxed the night the circus came to town. Shooting on the streets of Manhattan as the elephants marched to Madison Square Garden, the crew were beset by paparazzi who recognized Carrey and tried to make him break character. Gondry told Winslet to disappear into the crowd, in the manner of one of Joel's vanishing memories, but he didn't tell Carrey, who started frantically searching for his co-star. The chaos resulted in Gondry's favorite shot in the film. Said Carrey, "He tricked me into a good performance."
20. Gondry was unhappy with the poster used to promote the film, which featured a smiling Carrey. He complained that it oversold "Eternal Sunshine" as a zany romantic comedy, instead of the more wistful piece it actually was.
21. Carrey had, in 1996, become the first star to earn $20 million upfront per picture, but he cut his fee drastically for "Eternal Sunshine," whose entire budget was $20 million. The movie earned $34.4 million domestically and andother $37.9 million overseas.
22. "As soon as 'Eternal Sunshine' was finished, my girlfriend dumped me and it was horrible," Gondry said. "People have been asking me whether I would get her erased and to begin with I said no, but now I'm starting to come round to the idea, because it's awful not being in a relationship when you want to be."
23. The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, a prize shared by Bismuth, Kaufman, and Gondry. It also earned a Best Actress nomination for Winslet.
24. In a rare interview, Kaufman noted that his script seemed to have a made-for-DVD structure. "I think it's really designed to be seen more than once, because there is information that you don't have at the beginning of the movie that doesn't completely allow you to understand certain themes," he said. "You can understand them as Joel and Clementine. For example, you don't know the whole context when they meet each other on the train. It seems interesting to me any way in theory to be able to see that scene again once you know that.
25. In 2008, Bismuth and Gondry reunited for a short film called "The All-Seeing Eye." In the movie, the camera rotates around a Paris apartment where "Eternal Sunshine" is playing on TV. With each lap around the room, more and more objects vanish, until all that's left is an empty white cube.
Photo courtesy Focus Features / Everett Collection