How Memento Almost Killed Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind Before It Was Made

It wasn't his first feature film, but "Memento" was the movie that brought Christopher Nolan to prominence. The thriller was built around a protagonist attempting to get revenge for his dead wife, despite also suffering from anterograde amnesia. His short-term memory loss combined with cryptic messages and Polaroid photos add up to an intriguing revenge plot.

"Memento" was a success, making $40 million at the box office on a budget of $9 million. It also established Nolan as a director and writer who offers intriguing premises for his thrillers and action films. But the success of "Memento" almost derailed another film in production based heavily around the concept of lost memories.

No One's Mind Is Truly Spotless

While "Memento" was finding its footing at the box office, Charlie Kaufman was busy writing the screenplay for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Kaufman and director Michel Gondry were both attached to the film, but they also had a myriad of other films on the docket. The buzz around "Memento" started to intrude upon Kaufman's writing process for the script that eventually became "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

"We pitched this idea several years before Chris Nolan came out with his movie," Kaufman told DVDTalk. "I was delayed writing it because I had to write the movie that became 'Adaptation' first. And then I was producing 'Human Nature,' which Michel was directing. Plus it was very hard to write for me."

Kaufman recalled the growing conversation around "Memento" very well. "There was a moment when suddenly people started talking about this movie 'Memento' when I totally freaked out," added Kaufman. "I thought 'Oh I can't do this anymore,' and I called Michel and said 'I am not doing it,' then we called [producer Steve Golin] and said 'we're not doing it.' Steve Golin was very angry and said 'You are doing it!' So we did it. I wasn't influenced by Memento except in that way."

Staying Away From Science Fiction

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is technically a science fiction film, dealing with a company called Lacuna that can remove memories. In the movie, Joel Barish (played by Jim Carrey) undergoes the procedure to erase his memories of a failed relationship after his ex-girlfriend Clementine (played by Kate Winslet) underwent a similar process. Despite this sci-fi premise, the movie feels more like a drama.

For Kaufman, nailing this feeling was key. "I think Michel and I were in agreement from the beginning that the science fiction aspect of it should be really played down, and it should be as realistic a company and as mundane as possible," he explained. "It was more interesting and would focus the story on the relationship and that aspect of it rather than the technological aspect of it, which I don't think was real interesting to us."

It's an excellent film from two filmmakers at the top of their craft. They sadly never worked together on another film, with Kaufman moving into directing for his next film, "Synecdoche, New York." Gondry next film would be "The Science of Sleep," which he also wrote and directed.

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