“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world is forgetting, the world has forgotten. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.” — Alexander Pope
If someone walked up to you and said you could have one person completely erased from your memory. What would you say ? Maybe you’d say yes, this is a chance for a new start and you could completely forget the pain that person ever caused you. Or perhaps would you feel iffy about it. You believe that people come into your life for a reason and you shouldn't try to mess with that. I’m sure we can all think of one person we wish we had never met. The overlying question of would your mind be in an eternal state of sunshine if those memories were just scraped away is something that maybe no can answer. Do the people in our life really shape who we are, or are we more than that ? The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michael Gondry tackles these questions, while demonstrating how our mind is the trickiest place of them all.
The movie starts out on a bleak Valentine's day, Joel, played by Jim Carrey, decides to spontaneously skip work and take the Long Island RailRoad to Montauk. He grumbles, “Valentine's Day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.” So we can tell that his love life hasn’t been going too well. On the train he meets the eccentric blue haired Clementine, played by Kate Winslet, and she swears they have met before. She warns him not to make any jokes about her name being Clementine and Joel says he doesn't know any jokes about the name Clementine. Then she begins to sing “Oh my darling Oh my darling Oh my darling, Clemntine,” and they go back and forth with this playful banter. Joel goes home with her and they end up sleeping together. But this isn’t the first time they have met. They were in a relationship before but it ended so badly that they both had their memories erased. The movie is a circle plot, so the beginning of the movie really isn’t the “beginning” of Joel and Clementine’s story in fact.
Before Joe got his memory erased, he learned that Clementine (his ex) had gotten her memory erased of him. He finds an awfully blunt letter written by the lab who did the procedure, so he decides to get his mind erased too. “Well since she doesn't want to remember me, I don't want to remember her !,” type of scenario.
He meets Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) at Lacuna Inc. While Joel walks into the lab, even a discount is being promoted for patients who are getting their mind erased. Apparently a lot of people have lovers who they want to forget before Valentine’s Day rolls around.
Dr. Mierzwiak gives him the run down that he has to clear his whole apartment of anything that will remind him of Clementine. Then the two scientists from Lacuna Inc. Stan (Mark Ruffalo), Patrick (Elijah Wood) come to his apartment that night and begin the process. While Joel’s head is stuck in this massive aluminium helmet, Stan and Patrick drink beer, the receptionist from Lacuna, Mary (Kirsten Dunst) comes over, and they all smoke and goof off. Then suddenly Joel’s mind goes “off the map”.
In the midst of all of the memories Joel has had with Clemntine being erased, he realizes that maybe he doesn't want to forget her. Looking back on the happier moments such as the time he said, “I could die right now, Clem. I'm just... happy. I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be,” when they were out on an icy lake, Chinese take-out dates and more he ironically changed his mind about changing his mind. So while trapped under the aluminum helmet he and Clementine play this game of hide and seek where they try to hide from Stan and Patrick so their memories won’t be erased.
Totally freaked out, Stan calls his boss Dr. Mierzwiak to come help him. The movie shuffles between three different realities : Joel and Clementine after their memories are erased, Joel and Clementine before the memories are erased and the scenarios in Joel’s head happening during the procedure. Kaufman does a wonderful job with trapping viewers in between this labyrinth and it can get confusing sometimes but it creates a perfect chaotic harmony.
A sub - plot between Dr. Mierzwiak and Mary occurs when …
*STOP READING and come back if you have not watched the movie yet*
They both literally start to have sex after Joe’s mind comes back on the map. Mierzwiak’s wife drove to Joel's house to check up on her husband and then sees him through the window making love to his 20 year old assistant. Stan watches this whole mess go down and as the wife starts to drive away, Mierzwiak and Mary chase her car saying how sorry they are and it was a mistake. And his wife says something along the lines of, “So you didn’t tell her yet?” We later learn that Mary and Mierzwiak had an affair before but Mary got her mind errased of the doctor. Even with all of their memories erased she ended right back with him.
We see the same thing happen to Joel and Clementine. Joel’s mind is successfully erased in the end but even so he still ends up back with Clementine. Because we are more than just our memories. Yes you can erase the experiences we’ve had with particular people but no amount of science can change who you are. Joel and Clementine were attracted to each other because of who they were, their personalities and their livelihood. Clementine adds excitement to Joel’s life and he adds practicality to her’s. “I think if there’s this truly seductive quality about Clementine, it’s that her personality promises to take you out of the mundane. It’s like an amazing, burning meteorite that will carry you to another world where things are exciting.” In that quote alone you can tell how love-struck Joel is by Clemnetine and what she brings.
There are some people in this world that we aren’t meant to live without. I think Joel and Clementine are clear examples of this. It may be hard to live with them, but it’s impossible to live without them; is what both of these characters learn the hard way. The complete chemistry Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey have on screen gives me an indie movie type of love that I ADORE. Jim Carrey shows in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind similar to The Truman Show, that he can play more than just a goofball and comic relief character. He showed deep despair playing Joel and a depressive character who realizes extracting the most beautiful moments in our life with someone is not worth it just to get rid of a few bad ones. And Kate Winslet was able to show in this film that she can play more than just the playful English or Victorian girl like she did in Titanic. She perfectly played the badass, impulsive and stubborn character that Clementine was. One of my favorite quotes from the film is said by her, “Look, man, I’m telling you right off the bat, I’m high maintenance. So, I’m not gonna tip-toe around your marriage or whatever it is you got going on there. If you wanna be with me, you’re with me.”
The ending where Joel and Clementine (who had already had their memory erased) each hear each other’s confession tape they submitted to Dr. Mierzwiak of why they wanted to get rid of each other was heartbreaking. It hurts hearing the worst things about you repeated out loud by someone you’re just starting to fall in love with all over again. Clementine can’t help but wonder if they should even continue dating. If they felt this much hatred towards each other at one point, who’s to say it won't happen again. But this scene proves maybe it isn't so bad after all :
Joel Barish: I can't see anything I don't like about you.
Clementine Kruczynski: But you will, you will think of things and I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that's what happens with me.
Joel Barish: Okay.
Clementine Kruczynski: Okay.
The second to last scene made me cry, all of the emotions this film had stirred up had finally poured over. Joel narrates the first time (yes the first first time) he and Clementine met, on a cold winter’s day at a beach barbecue. He talks about how he spotted her immediately in her orange sweatshirt that he loved but would grow to hate. He sat next to her, relieved that someone else feels weird interacting at these things and the scene follows :
Clementine : I'm Clementine. Can I borrow a piece of your chicken?
Joel : And then you just took it, without waiting for an answer. It was so intimate, like we were already lovers.
Clementine : Hi, Joel. So, no jokes about my name.
Joel : You mean, like "Oh, my darlin', Clementine?" Huckleberry Hound? That sort of thing?
Clementine : Yeah, like that. No, no jokes.
Joel : One of my favorite things when I was a kid was my Huckleberry Hound doll. I think your name is magical.
Because that scene right there embodied to me the whole messed up philosophy of what the term “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind,” really means. The second first time Joel and Clementine met he said that he didn't know any jokes about the name Clementine and then she proceeded to sing the Huckleberry Hound song. But the first time he met her, he immediately made that joke and commented on how beautiful the name Clementine is. Did Joel getting his mind erased ever change who he was as a person ? Not at all. He may have said different things when meeting her for the first time but that is the irony of it all. Clemntine completes him like Joel completes her. They even fill in the gaps to each other’s sentences without even knowing so.
You always find your way back to the people who are meant to be in your life. That final scene and the first scene I described earlier show the same Joel and Clementine, because your memories don’t define you. The same way Mary ended up with Dr. Mierzwiak the second time around shows that zapping painful memories away does not provide us with eternal happiness. Eternal happiness is maybe something that no one can ever truly accomplish. You are always going to have crappy days in life. Getting rid of one person will not provide you with the ideal life you thought you were supposed to have. But we become so obsessed with the thought that “everything in life would have been fine if I just hadn’t met this one person”, etc. that we go to the extreme because we think we will be ourselves again without their pain.
So the next time someone walks up to you and says that you could have one person completely erased from your memory, say no. Because a spotless mind is not necessarily a better one. Joel and Clementine truly taught us that best.
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