Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the Importance of the Kitchen Table

Michel Gondry reveals the emotional and pragmatic vocation of one of the most versatile pieces of home furniture

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Form beats function any day of the week — at least as far as kids are concerned. And while you might not remember now, being young in the domestic playground came with its quirks: the perfect hiding spot, the sofa that doubled as a trampoline, and the table that served as a fortress. Furniture, it would seem, wasn’t always so pragmatic.

In 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, director Michel Gondry illustrates just that in one of the film’s most memorable scenes. During an immersive flashback, Joel (Jim Carrey), is transported back in time to his childhood home together with girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet). In a hippie dress and knee high boots, Winslet paces back and forth, exclaiming, “Oh my god, I love this kitchen!”, while conversing with a young Carrey seeking refuge under one of the most functional furnishings in the house: the kitchen table.

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With thin metallic legs and light, airy lines, the table takes on an unmistakeable retro look, whose floral tablecloth complements the rest of the kitchen while covering drawers beneath: utilitarian pullouts that prove informal and pragmatic — an unacceptable feature for any table with a pretense of elegance. Further setting the scene and confirming the kitchen table’s informal vocation, Gondry strips the area of chairs. Furthermore, thanks to a unique perspective and a custom-made, oversized table to fit Carrey underneath, the French director was able to film the scene without the use of special effects (a similar approach finds the actor in a phantasmagoric tub later on, immersed in the kitchen sink).

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While the distinction may seem subtle, it’s worth nothing that just 200 years ago, a single table was more than enough for the average family. Today, industrial improvements have changed that, underlining both the functional and formal differences between a hearty dining table and its more essential counterpart in the kitchen.

Back under the table with Carrey, the differences between them become clear with a child in the house, where the informal connotations associated with his mother’s kitchen table transform the bare, basic table into a protective barrier from the big, scary world outside.

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