Perhaps the greatest, and strangest, love story ever filmed on the East End, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind captures beautifully the tender gift of romantic love, its fragile nature and the tragedy of losing it. And Montauk plays a central role.
Iconic scenes of the two, once-doomed lovers, played by Jim Carey and Kate Winslet, have inspired and enchanted fans all over the world. They meet on the Long Island Rail Road, exit onto a desolate train platform in winter, frolic along a snow-covered beach and share tender moments lying in bed by the ocean, and on a frozen lake, but nothing resonates more than those four whispered words…“Meet me in Montauk.”
For the devoted fans who have elevated the film to cult status, Eternal Sunshine is more than a movie—it’s a hopeful message about the enduring power of true love, an allegory to the world’s oldest and greatest myths, it’s the thing that makes getting out of bed a little less painful each day. And it continues to make the idea of a trip to The End all the more alluring.
The Academy Award–winning film, directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman, tells the tale of Joel and Clementine, two diametrically different people who meet on a train to Montauk. They feel overwhelmingly drawn to each other and the sparks of new love are ignited—until they realize it’s not the first time they’ve met. In fact, they were once madly in love, but the sweetness between them soured as the couple’s once-refreshing differences began to push them apart. Eventually the pain became too great and, with the help of a company called Lacuna Inc., they erase all memory of one another.
As Joel’s recollections of Clementine dwindle slowly away, his last is her whispering “Meet me in Montauk.” By the time he meets Clementine on the train to Montauk, all of their memories are gone, but the unwittingly reunited couple eventually receive their Lacuna files in the mail and learn of their past together. They must then decide whether to move forward and try again or give up, considering their history.
“Meet Me In Montauk” has become a symbol for everything people adore about Eternal Sunshine. It’s a mantra for love everlasting and an inspiration for pilgrimages to the East End hamlet. Since the film’s critically acclaimed release in 2004, Eternal Sunshine’s famous words have been reproduced on T-shirts, handbags, jewelry, makeup, posters and just about anything else that can be custom printed.
Dozens of fans display “Meet Me In Montauk” tattoos and Eternal Sunshine–themed artwork on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and other social networking sites. Most have never been to Montauk or even the United States, but a good number have made the trip, it seems, solely based on their unabashed love of the film. They recreate scenes, and photograph or shoot video at locations from the movie.
On DeviantArt.com—where she goes by the name Melikie—Swedish photographer Linnéa Pettersson proudly displays a picture of her “Meet Me In Montauk” tattoo. “I got the tattoo because for me it’s about true love. That love can overcome everything,” Pettersson explained, describing how Joel and Clementine found each other, despite the obstacles and amnesia.
“Love can overcome everything. Love is the greatest thing,” she said. “And if it’s really meant to be, there is nothing that can stop you.” Pettersson hopes to get to Montauk someday, when she can afford the trip, and “maybe even get married by the ocean.”
While living in his hometown of Mykolayiv, Ukraine in 2009, professional photographer John Berd couldn’t meet his models in Montauk, so he recreated some of Eternal Sunshine’s most memorable moments closer to home. One particularly recognizable shot features his models lying in the middle of a frozen river, just as Joel and Clementine did on what appears to be Lake Montauk in the film (see above).
Now studying and living in Paris, Berd, 30, said the Eternal Sunshine shots were among his best work. He has not yet been to Montauk, but was immediately attracted to the cold, empty locations shown in the movie and he hopes to one day make it to the fabled hamlet. “I find it incredibly beautiful,” Berd said. “There is some hidden, fragile romance in it.”
Montauk has always had its own brand of magic, whether it’s tales of The Montauk Project, aliens and time travel at Camp Hero, the iconic lighthouse or incredible bass fishing and surfing in the shadow of the Montauk bluffs. Even its rich history is magical—abundant with Native Americans, Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Riders, German spies and the U.S. military.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind adds one more layer to this enigmatic and storied East End settlement, and gives another reason to walk its beautiful, lonely beaches before the quiet season is over.