Movie vs. Script: ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

With the release of Charlie Kaufman’s new movie Anomalisa in select theaters on December 20, everywhere at an unspecified date in January, it’s a good idea to start off this series with the screenplay that became perhaps Kaufman’s most famous film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not only did it get him his first (and only, so far) Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but also it’s his most commercially successful movie with a $70 million worldwide gross.

For those of you who have not watched the movie, it tells the story of Joel Barish, a down-on-his-luck artist, who realizes his ex-girlfriend Clementine has erased him from his memory. He decides to do the same, but during the process, he becomes conscious and regrets it, so he begins to turn it around. The main reference for this article will be the shooting script published by Newmarket from their The Shooting Script series. We’ll also be talking about some of the earlier drafts available online and how they differ.


The opening is nearly identical. But instead of taking the audience through Joel’s sad morning routine, it opens on the commuter train station, with Joel rushing to catch the train Montauk. His dialogue on the phone with his boss is also longer. Joel’s voice overs also have a few extra lines, especially about him thinking of getting back to Naomi, his ex-girlfriend. In the diner, when he meets Clementine, she gets a little dialogue with the waitress.

Later on, when Joel is trying to figure out why and how Clementine erased him from her memory, their friend Carrie says that Clementine learned about Lacuna (the memory-erasing company) from a woman at the supermarket. Moving forward, the changes in the script are mostly minor, with characters, in general, getting a few extra lines in scenes.

eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

But the biggest changes come at the beginning. You know that scene when Joel and Clementine lie and stargaze in the frozen Charles River? Instead of the beginning, Kaufman makes it happen towards the end, making it chronologically correct. The moment we see Joel driving home right before he gets the procedure done is when Clementine asks him to call her once he gets home. Not only does Naomi Joel’s ex get mentioned in more dialogue, but also a scene in which he calls her. You can get a bigger glimpse of her character as played by Ellen Pompeo in the deleted scenes available on the Blu-Ray and the Collector’s Edition DVD. There are also The script ends with Joel and Clementine saying “Okay” to each other.

That brings us to the biggest changes made on the film: the beginning and the end. In earlier drafts that can be found online, Clementine gets the procedure done on her again as an old woman, and it is implied that both Joel and Clementine have gotten their memory erased repeatedly over the years. This gives the movie something of a direct downer ending, although one could get the idea that they may yet find each other and fall in love again as they have before. Meanwhile the movie’s ending leaves things more uncertain, there’s both the promise that they will stay together or break-up, but what matters is that with the knowledge they have acquired of themselves and each other, they love each other enough to take on this ride again.

eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Overall, the movie stuck very close to the script, you could even say they are identical save for moving scenes from the beginning to the end, but I can understand why these decisions were made. We get to spend a little more time with Joel and Clementine and that makes us understand why they fall in love with each other. Deleting Naomi from the movie could have been a decision to fasten the pace of the film, but Joel’s mere mention of her brings home the baggage he has from their relationship and although it reads fine in the script, it could have been too distracting in the final film.

This is one of those cases where the script and film are both exceptional, where all the talent involved gave their best to mine out truly the best out of the script and have made a movie that could now be regarded as a modern classic. If you haven’t watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you really should. If you had it erased from your memory by Lacuna, then it is time to watch it again.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be purchased here on Blu-Ray:

And the script right here:

Oscar Moreno
Oscar Moreno
Mexican. Writer. Filmmaker. Lover of good laughs and good food.