Analysis Of Film Editing Techniques In The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film that incorporates romance, drama and science fiction. It is based around a man in his middle age called Joel Barish who falls in love with a girl called Clementine Kruczynsk. Later their two years relationship started to fall apart, and Clementine erases all the memory she had about Joel. After Joel realizing what Clementine did, he decides to undergo the same process to erase his girlfriends’ memories. In the middle of the erasing process, Joel decides he is not ready to let the memories disappear. Valdís Óskarsdóttir, the film editor, brings out various editing techniques: chronology, flashbacks, continuity and discontinuity editing, jump cuts and eye-line matches. These techniques help in developing the narrative and also balance the characters’ perspectives while at the same time maintaining its simplicity easy for the audience to follow.

Flashback and Flash Forward

Flashback is usually used to take the narrative back in time before the current story time. It helps build the story as well as the character. The film uses flashback to reveal the love life story of the couple before Clementine decided to erase their memory’s together. When Joel decides to undergo a similar memory erasing procedure, he watches the memories fade, and this is when he realizes he does not want them to disappear. He tries to stop the process because he finds out he still loves Clementine. At this moment the story is told through Joel’s memory erasing and this makes it look like it is narrated backward. For example, one day Joel goes to bed to sleep and finds himself watching his dream. He views himself as he speaks with his neighbors who ask him about Valentine’s Day and then mentions Clementine. This makes Joel uncomfortable with the talk (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004). The audience is passed through the confusion that Joel is undergoing as their happy relationship moments disappear one after the other. This makes the storyline more interesting and unique from any other love triangle drama film. The author also incorporates flash-forward editing at the start of the film. We see Joel and Clementine together in the train, and they are meeting for the first time as far as they can tell since their memories have been erased.

Continuity and discontinuity

They are pretty use of continuity editing in the film. It is the most commonly used style in movie editing. Continuity editing is a process of cutting to maintain the flow and a clear storyline. Continuity editing is classified into two: temporal continuity and spatial continuity. In the In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we see Joel Banish experiencing various fragments of reality. Some of the fragments are memories, and some pieces are made of illusions of his imaginations. In the entire film, the audience is able to use and join different cues to tell the reality of Joel at various times. When Joel realizes he does not want to continue with his impulsive decision of erasing the memories, he holds Clementine’s hand, and they run through different places, at the same time the doctor is still working to erase Joel’s memories. The places eventually disappear as the Joel and Clementine are seen running from a drive-in movie theater to the office of the doctor and finally to the library.

However, even though the film portrays Joel moving from one scene to another in his life, the audience understands that it is a single continuous scene basing on Joel ’s behavior and the film’s ideas. Continuity technique is used in exploring ideas of memories and the unconscious mind. Even when everything is faded away: faced seemed distorted, and the car disappeared, Joel continued to hold on to Clementine. He struggles to save her and his memory from being shuttered. We also see fights and painful moments of their relationship in Joel’s memories. Joel can use imaginations and minds as he holds on his ideas of Clementine to move from different scenes, time and space. In a continuous running scene regardless of many changes in the setting, the audience knows that the scene is continuous because Joel is continuing with the fight to retain Clementine’s memories.

At the initial stage of the film, there is a noticeable smooth rhythm. Later on, the author integrates both discontinuity and continuity editing in order to balance the drastic changes between the memories and reality. At the beginning of the film we see Joel approaching his car and notices the it had been damaged only to live a note saying thank you on neighbor’s car to suggest that the neighbor caused the damages, he cannot remember since this scene happened the morning after the procedure. This scene is not very straightforward and author incorporated discontinuity editing which can potentially confuse the audience. Without discontinuity, the audience would lack a clear view of what other actors are doing during a particular time.


It is also hard to ignore the use of jump cuts in conjunction with continuity editing so as to attain the smooth and unnoticeable transition from one scene to the next. To achieve the continuity editing camera has to be rotated 30 degrees or even more but jump-cut is attained without this rule. Thus, combination of various shots produces a jump effect. In the film, the editor deliberately applied both jump cuts and cross-cutting to show reactions of Joel on the procedure to erase Joel’s memories. During this procedure, the film uses distinct effects in each case of memory loss scene. Joel is watching everything disappear in front of his eyes. Some memory loss scenes appear to speed up; some shots are slowed while others are reversed both sound and light are used to portray the hard experience that Joel is undergoing. As the memory of Clementine begins to be erased, the viewer sees darkness and two spotlights concentrating on Joel and girlfriend. The sounds in this shot are every irritating which depicts the uncomfortable experience as well as the frustrations of the character.

Eye-line Match

Eye-line match is another example of editing technique linked with continuity editing. It helps to create a reasonable consistency from one shot to another thus making a smooth narrative. Eye-line match is an essential component in film making. It is about what the viewers can observe from the actor’s eye. It is mostly applied to the characters, but it can also be applied to anything than be seen such as the object, a character or a view. Successions of shot-reverse shots and eye-line matches are utilized in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to portray Joel and Clementine’s anxious dialogue effectively. The film also uses the eye-line match as Joel’s memory is continuously moving through from one place to another and he has to keep refocusing.


Chronology is an element of editing which has been used constantly in this film. Eternal Sunshine plays the story of Joel and Clementine reversely. When Joel’s memories are distorted the audience see them playing on the screen starting with most fresh and ending with the beginning of their relationship. Incorporating Chronology makes their relationship appear improving as the film continues whereas this is not the case. The recent negative memories eventually fade away, and the audience is left thinking of the good times that the couple shared and we, therefore, want to see them together again. This is an effective technique considering they make each other unhappy.

In conclusion, well planned movements of shots give a more realistic feeling which makes the audience feel like they are engaged in the scene. There is much of handheld camera work and changes in camera’s focus can be noted. Every scene in this film is well planned and detailed with uniqueness in every shot which are then brought together through integrating different editing techniques thus giving a satisfactory feeling to watch, because of the level of creativity deployed. The Film is so unpredictable which shows events moving from one place to another when least anticipated hence making the movie more interesting. As you watch the series, you feel engaged to the characters and their personality as well as the story itself. The prime aim of the variation and incorporation of various techniques in this film is to convey experiences of confusion, frustrations, emotions, and regrets that Joel is experiencing.   

16 December 2021
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