Michael Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most visually expressive and atmospheric romantic movies. When a film perfectly nails atmosphere you usually think horror, crime-thrillers, or science-fiction but Eternal Sunshine falls into none of those categories. Kind of.

The film focuses on Joel and Clementine and the tale of their romance, but in a slight twist, the narrative is framed through the memories of Joel. Eternal Sunshine is a very human story that uses science-fiction elements as a conduit to create a film that's presented as a vivid dream, a literal trip down memory lane. This plot device allows for Gondry to create some imaginative set-pieces, contrasting an extremely personal and humanistic story against some fantastical symbolic backdrops. As we jump around Joel's memories from the happy to the bleak, the audience is thrust through a non-linear story that uses visuals to keep itself cohesive and grounded. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind creates vivid dreamscapes that completely (and sometimes literally) engulf Joel and Clementine, as well as masterfully manipulating the audience.

The visuals in Eternal Sunshine, as extravagant as they are, work because they are utilised as a means of supplementing the plot and characters. At no point in the film does it feel like the cinematic visuals are just there to indulge director Michael Gondry. As the film moves from key moment to key moment, the filming style adapts to what's happening on screen. Joel and Clementine's happiest days are showcased with a warm colour pallete, all reds and oranges, while their hardest times are cold, blue and unfocused. The camera techniques also change depending on the characters' plight. During a particularly harsh memory, the set around Joel and Clementine literally starts crumbling away, slowly disappearing into a stark black background. The framing becomes slightly off - but only slightly, enough to make the audience feel uncomfortable but not enough to draw obvious attention to the technique. Contrasted with this, the most intimate moments between Joel and Clementine are full of lingering, affectionate close-ups. There's still an air of fantasy around these scenes but it's more subtle, presenting itself in a heightened, warmer lighting set-up rather than a noisy crumbling set. You know all the techniques click together brilliantly in the scenes where characters share their most intimate and personal moments - because you feel like you're sharing them too.

This enforcement of mood through colour and cinematic technique is ingrained in every part of the film, right down to Clementine's hair colour. At the peak of their relationship Clementine's hair is a passionate and vibrant red, while at their breaking point her hair is a raggedy blue. A third colour, green, is used to represent Joel and Clementine's first meeting. As well as being a subtle (well, actually, pretty obvious) signifier to the state of the relationship, the hair colour is also important as placing scenes in context. Because the memories, as they do in real life, jump over different times, Clementine's hair colour acts as an essential element in understanding the order of scenes. If you had reservations of how inherently important the visuals are to the world of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, just think that I had to dedicate an entire paragraph to one character's hair colour.

What sets apart Eternal Sunshine from similar off-beat, slightly fantasy-based romance movies such as Her is the memory erasing plot device. It allows Gondry to embellish more mundane elements of the narrative and present them in unique and interesting ways. When Joel and Clementine argue about things we've all seen before - a drunken mistake, a conflict of interests - Gondry presents them in a way that you've never seen before. After witnessing a memory of an argument Joel runs down a street, angrily yelling "I'm erasing you! I'm erasing you and I'm happy!" as cars violently fall from the sky. His world literally falls apart around him. It's hardly subtle, and in lesser hands with a lesser director and lesser actors the scene could have been cringe-worthy. Instead scenes like this are shockingly effective.

Unlike so many of its contemporaries, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind completely understands how to use modern ideas and progressive visual techniques to recontextualise the same romantic beats we've seen countless times. Without the unique visual framing in Eternal Sunshine, the film just wouldn't be anywhere near as effective. Joel and Clemetine's relationship would have still been brilliantly acted, I'm sure, but it wouldn't have the same emotional resonance, and wouldn't have rang as true. The audience sees the memories that are important to Joel, the good or the bad, and it develops both characters in a genuinely original way. The visuals perfectly impact and accentuate important points in the plot, as well as creating some extremely heartfelt and poignant moments. Gondry weaves a personal, human story through a series of vividly imagined dreamscapes that effortlessly encapsulates the lives of these two characters. It's elegant and it's fantastical yet it's raw and emotional; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind understands the importance of visual storytelling, yet unlike many that have came before and after, it doesn't fall for age old mistake of style over substance.