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Text Commentary

Playing with Space & Time
by Lorien Hunter `

As noted by William Uricchio in his article Technologies of Time (, film has long had the ability to expand our understanding of spatial and temporal reality.  In this clip from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) this spacio-temporal flexibility is augmented through the use of dreams and memory, and by allowing the lines to blur between the filmic dream and real worlds.

 The clip begins with the audience rooted firmly in the film’s “real” world, and we listen as Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo) drink beer and discuss their girlfriends in Joel Barish’s living room (played by Jim Carrey) while he lies asleep on the couch.  Suddenly, the setting changes and we are now in Joel’s dream world where we watch as he travels through several different memories involving his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) and their failed relationship. Although there are several instances of spatial and temporal inconsistencies within the dream itself such as the shifting location of the car (thus distinguishing the sequence as occurring outside “reality” and signaling to the viewer the events being seen are a dream), the dream sequence is still, initially, kept entirely distinct from the film reality.  However, by allowing the voices of Patrick and Stan to bleed into Joel’s dream world, distinctions between Joel’s dream and real worlds become muddled.  Although we continue to follow Joel through his dream space, we are simultaneously aware of the “real” space he also occupies simultaneously back in his living room asleep on the couch.  This awareness is further augmented through the subsequent flashes back and forth between the real and dream worlds, where Joel’s dreams continue to be invaded by the ongoing real world conversation Stan and Patrick engage in back at the apartment.  In doing so, time and space is employed once again to expand the awareness of the viewer beyond what is happening at that moment on the screen.     

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Eternal Sunshine reality slippage by Michel Gondry (2004) Reality and memory become indistinguishable