In Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), the connections between people and memories become the focal point of a very unique romance. Through the use of new technology, the possibility of erasing memories makes painful relationships disappear like they never happened. The tale of Joel and Clementine allows the audience to rethink and question the process they undergo as beneficial or destructive. Though the process might be helpful in eliminating the pain caused from another person, four key scenes show how the lessons learned through relationship experiences are important.
At the start of the film, Joel Barish (Jim Carey) finds himself waking up in the morning from what appears to have been a deep sleep. With a sudden urge to ditch the train to work, he catches another train to Montauk on this cold, snowy Valentine’s Day. Both the weather and his personal appearance use strong symbolism for depression and loneliness. Despite his feelings, his attention is quickly captured by a brightly dressed woman that suddenly appears on the beach. To have come out of nowhere is “meant to suggest, unobtrusively, that she is not purely a stranger, that in some fashion she may already be known to him” (Toles 114).
Though Joel is shy and too scared to approach her, the outgoing Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) becomes interested in the shy and quiet man on the train ride back from Montauk. As the two begin talking, the audience learns how very different the pair, as Joel comes off as dull and boring while Clementine is outgoing and fun. Once they begin getting acquainted with each other, attraction sets in and develops into a relationship of true opposites. When their relationship of a year goes sour after a fight between them, Clementine chooses to have Joel erased from her mind by a procedure.
Joel, heartbroken after discovering what Clementine had done, chooses to have the same procedure done to relieve himself of the pain. One of the first scenes in the movie is the first outing of Joel and Clementine. The two make a late night trip to visit the frozen Charles River. Though Joel is very nervous and unsure about walking out onto the frozen river, Clementine runs and slides past him. After falling and getting up, she then pressures Joel to step out of his comfort zone and to walk out onto the ice. At this point, the outing becomes more than just a part of a romantic date, but also a new experience for Joel.
While Joel is normally quiet and to himself about everything, this outing made him get out of his comfort zone and do something he otherwise wouldn’t even think to do. With this being a new experience for him to loosen up and have some fun, such a lesson could provide him a change of pace from the dull and boring routine of his normal life. Another scene in the movie is the fight between Clementine and Joel. Joel is sitting at home worried late one night when Clementine shows up at three in the morning tipsy. She tells Joel that she wrecked his car, which upsets Joel.
He begins letting his emotions get the best of him and fires off by telling her how she was being irresponsible and could have seriously injured someone. Responding to the criticism, Clementine tells Joel he sounds like an old lady. The small argument grows larger as the two begin throwing low blows targeting each other’s insecurities. At this point, Clementine quickly grabs her things and leaves. Having a dispute with someone is a part of life. Being in a relationship causes closeness with that other person and allows each to know the other’s insecurities and how to get under their skin to make them upset.
When situations break out and things are said that weren’t meant, that experience provides an individual with emotions that are uncomfortable and unforgettable. Dealing with these feelings is an experience to learn from and one to avoid. Although the outcome isn’t always the same, it provides knowledge to handle future situations and make situations and disputes better when they go bad. While undergoing the memory erasing procedure, Joel begins wanting to preserve his memories of Clementine after he slowly starts realizing how happy he was with her.
In doing so, he attempts to hide memories of her where they don’t belong, such as in his childhood, in hopes of saving her memory. In one of Joel’s childhood memories, his mother is bathing him in the kitchen sink alongside Clementine. While being bathed, Joel comments on how secure he feels as he is shown being very relaxed and happy. Shortly afterward, his memory is erased which causes a great deal of sadness. The effect of having his childhood memories erased could have great effects on him after the fact. A relationship between a young child and his mother is very crucial in the development of the child.
This relationship is among the first and provides social development of how the child will grow up and act. With the positive childhood memory erased, he is not only losing a special moment shared with his mother, but some of the experiences he had that help shape him the way he is. “It’s as if the loss of a potent childhood memory has resulted in the loss of a childhood itself and rendered senseless the world the memory helped sustain” (Reeve 18). One of the most affectionate love scenes Joel experiences before it becomes erased is a bedroom scene.
Clementine and Joel are cuddled up in a bed while an interested Clementine talks sweetly to a sleepy Joel. She insists on getting to know him and wishes he would share things about himself. Describing herself as being like an open book, Clementine tells Joel everything about herself. She then tells Joel that he can be open with her and tell her things too because that’s what intimacy is all about. Joel responds saying he doesn’t have anything because he’s not interesting. Clementine was right about sharing information as it is the basis for a relationship.
Knowing a person inside and out is vital in having a stable and healthy relationship. Knowing very little or nothing about a person won’t make for a very long lasting relationship as there won’t be any basis of any type of chemistry other than physical appearance. Being able to open up to others is important not only in intimate relations, but with any relations within society that require communication. While watching the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, most viewers interpret the film as a typical romantic drama.
Digging deeper past the idea of memory erasing, one finds a message to be taken from the film. That message is to take our past experiences, whether good or bad and learn from them. We as people learn from our mistakes, and in that process we are able to become smarter and know how to handle situations. If our memories were erased, lessons learned would become forgotten and experiences that help shape us as human beings wouldn’t exist. Whether it is taking a risk, handling a dispute, having positive experiences as a child or learning communications skills, they are crucial pieces of information that are needed.
No matter how painful a memory might be, the price paid in wisdom gained from an unpleasant experience outweighs knowledge lost from an erased memory. ?
Works Cited Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Dir. Michael Gondry. Perf. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet. Universal, 2004. DVD. Reeve, C. D. C. “Two Blue Ruins: Love and Memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. ” Print. Rpt. in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. By Christopher Grau. New York: Routledge, 2009. 18. Print. Toles, George. “Trying to Remember Clementine. ” Print. Rpt. in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. By Cristopher Grau. New York: Routledge, 2009. 114. Print.