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Character Exposition Through Mise-en-Scène in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Mise-e-scène is one of the most recognizable conventions in filmmaking. It translates literally from the French to “staging” or “to put in the scene” in English. When applied to film studies, mise-en-scène refers to all the visual elements within a particular shot or sequence. Mise-en-scène consists of 5 distinct categories which assist in the development of a film’s visual narrative: Setting and Design, Costume and Make-up, Lighting, Acting and Movement, and Framing. These elements together and separately help to inform the viewer by giving them visual cues as to the nuances of meaning within a film’s structural form. Mise-en-scène may gives the viewer insight into the nature of a film’s characters and their subsequent state of mind, the time and place in which events are occurring, the mood and meaning intended by a particular scene, and also help the viewer to form expectations based upon the filmmaker’s interpretive point of view. In the film, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Director Michael Gondry utilizes mise-en-scène to denote the complex temporal relationships between his characters, their circumstances, and a fragmented plot structure which progresses through elliptical patterns between memory and reality. In fact, the use of mise-en-scène in Spotless Mind is central to understanding the inner construct of Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine’s (Kate Winslet) personalities and personal motives, as well as the antagonistic mechanism at play in their relationship.
We are introduced to Joel in the very first shot of the film’s opening scene. Through dimly lit, muted tones we see Joel sluggishly awakening from sleep. He is lit from the side by an unshaded window which is used as the scene’s primary light source. Ha...


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...Joel’s being is devoid of it. Throughout the film this motif of color is also reinforced by the places that are associated with them, the clothes that they wear, and the cars that they drive. Color, and the lack there of, has literally acted as the medium through which our characters’ portraits have been painted in this film.
Mise-en-scène is a vital function in film which allows us to glean a deeper significance than mere action and dialogue can convey. We react to the signs, symbols, and icons within a film because they are imbedded deeply into our collective subconscious. Our history of visual storytelling predates language and it is a tradition that is innately human and universally recognized, even if the viewer is unaware of the elements of mise-en-scène and the way in which they are constructing the emotional and psychological context of a film’s story.



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