Ashna’s Celluloid Scenes: Women in Pop Culture- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Editor’s Note: Below is an essay written by Film Blogger Ashna Sran on Charlie Kaufman’s 2004 film, where she explores the portrayal of women and relationships in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and common tropes in the Romance genre. Sran originally wrote this piece for her Intro to Film Studies class with Dr. Simone Muench.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film written by Charlie Kaufman at a time which many considered the peak of his career due to Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Kaufman is a writer who is not afraid to step out of the conventional and explore ideas of a more weird and hypothetical nature. The movie is a romantic movie that is unlike any other. It portrays realistic characters and shows a side of them that not many other movies in this genre demonstrate. Often romantic films fail to follow common logic and display unrealistic actions done by the main characters. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the characters don’t throw caution to the wind. The characters share a passionate, yet often painfully incompatible romance. This film navigates love, loneliness, self-esteem, memories, the fight to make something work, and the loss of the battle to do that. Something that the movie accomplishes is the destruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) trope, which deals with an eccentric female (or male) character whose purpose is to guide the protagonist to happiness and self-realization without ever having independent goals of their own. This trope has been seen in many projects, whether they refute it or try to redeem it, such as 500 Days of Summer (2009), The Fault in Our Stars (2012), and Garden State (2004). 

It is incredibly important to portray women accurately in movies as not doing so can lead to many self-image problems in women and young women in the audience. Often the MPDG trope lumps together all individuals who are quirky and creates one-dimensional female characters who don’t have problems of their own and devote their lives to making the protagonist happy. The trope is highly unoriginal and belittling to women that may resemble a similarity to the common MPDG. In recent times, representation in media is increasingly important, and having a character that reduces an individual to their most basic form is offensive and challenges how young girls may see themselves growing up. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an amazing film in which the complexity of the central female character is explored, and her humanity is highlighted.

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