I realize that this is a departure from my usual *Asian male centric* posts, but I couldn’t help it, sorry guys! I promise to come at you with more of my normal posts soon!
Can we just pause and appreciate how awesome the female characters in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are? I realize this is an old film, and many points like this may have been brought up already, but as I’m now rewatching (for probably about the 60th time) this film, I just have to talk about the female characters and how awesome they are. In a shockingly large amount of romantic films, comedic films, hell films in general, women are portrayed as one dimensional, love-struck idiots who are ‘completed’ by their male counterparts and have nothing better to do than search for love. This film is an ‘indie’ romance film. Obviously, romance is centric. However, depicted within this romance, there is a depth to the female characters that is shockingly unique compared to most films nowadays.
First, you get the main female Clementine, played by the amazing Kate Winslet.
This girl is bad-ass. She hates nice, she is a self-proclaimed crazy bitch, she ‘applies her personality in a paste’ via hair color, and yet she owns it. She’s smart, witty, sarcastic and sharp. She likes being impulsive, sexy, quirky (she dresses up potato heads as a hobby) and yet, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to waste the short time she has on the earth pretending to be someone she’s not. Therefore she lives life to its fullest.
When she gets out of her relationship with Joel, which we can all admit at the end was not serving either of them, she erases him. She may regret it later, but that doesn’t stop her from being empowered, and declaring that no man can claim her in a way she doesn’t feel comfortable with. She’s definitely a messed up person, and yet her strength lies in the very fact that she knows this, and still lives on to the best of her abilities. When she chooses to get back into a relationship with Joel, it’s with acceptance that it might not work out. There is no idealized or romanticized belief that she’s found her ‘soul mate.’ As she says, “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind.” She’s just a person, attempting a relationship with another person that she feels a connection with. And surprisingly, it’s one of the most romantic relationships ever portrayed in a film.
Then you get Kirsten Dunst’s character.
Arguably this character is much less empowered than Winslet’s role. In fact she’s a stereotypical ‘sad sack’ female… one who has had a crush on an ‘intellectual’ doctor for years, always believing that she isn’t good enough for him, lacking self-confidence, and generally making a very believable fool of herself in realistically cringe-worty moments. The scene where she calls Alexander Pope, Pope Alexander is so believably horrifying that it makes me shrivel up on the inside every time I watch it. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in one of those situations, trying to impress a person and failing epicly. However, despite this surface stereotype and inner lack of confidence, when this character finds out that she has, in fact, had her memory wiped and is able to remember what was in essence a horrible, destructively cyclical and repetitive relationship, she pauses.
She recognizes the inherent patronizing and abusive aspects to the relationship she once held with the Doctor, and she gets the HELL out of it. She then one-ups him by destroying his business and standing up for something she believes is right. While some may argue her act of re-distributing the patients’ files is unethical and done in a fit of impulsive revenge, I think it speaks to a much deeper act. Her memory loss resulted in a life spent full of regret, lack of confidence, and despair. She is attempting to help others by showing forgetting is NOT the way, but moving on is. This character is important because she reclaims her power. While she is flawed, she does not let her flaws own her, but instead, faces them, and chooses to overcome them.
Then you get Dierdre O’Connell, Dr. Mierwiak’s wife.
Sorry I couldn’t find a proper picture from the film.
This woman has the smallest part, in fact it’s more of a cameo than a part in the film. The only time she shows up is to discover her husband’s affair *again* and to finally cut ties with him. Her role is as wife, but again, she does not let that define her. For whatever reason in her past, she accepted her cheating husband’s affair and got over it. However, when she rediscovers it, she says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Not only does she do this, but she sticks up for the young girl who is getting involved in a bad relationship. She is the catalyst that helps Kirsten Dunt’s character find her own empowerment, and she herself stays strong and refuses to accept her slimy husband’s lies. She does not let her marriage define her like so many Hollywood depictions of wives. Within the scope of the film, she is only seen as a wife, but there is a tangible knowledge that this person has a life, and friends, and she values herself and her happiness more than a destructive relationship. If we zoomed out of the main storyline of this film, we would be able to see her reclaiming a life husband-free and happier because of it.
I think what’s great about all these female characters is not that they are perfect, or that they constantly talk about how flawless women are or how much better they are than men. What shows their real strength is that they are flawed. They admit to being worried about societal conventions like prettiness, and age, and loneliness… but that doesn’t mean they are crippled by these worries. They acknowledge them as flaws, and constantly try to better themselves, like SO MANY WOMEN TODAY. They act as role models because of the very fact that they struggle and conquer their issues, rather than living in an idealized, male-centric world. Hollywood, please, take notes, and start writing more characters like this!!!