Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;”

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Have you ever wished that you had a restart button on you so that you could start your life all over again, to free yourself completely from the memories that make you who you are today? When we were born, we were like blank sheets of paper, and as we grow up, we fill up those blank sheets of paper with memories we create through our experiences. Before we even know it, these memories gradually and solidly define who we are, and if we mess it up, there is no turning back: our consciousness and memories cannot be started anew; the ink we wrote into our minds cannot be undone. We are forever doomed to be the persons we make ourselves to be.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a captivating and unconventional movie that explores the concept of memory and the role it plays in defining our identities. The movie makes the process of having our memories erased possible: what if all our painful memories can be easily removed from our consciousness with the help of a company called Lacuna Inc.? We all have those undesirable moments that we want to put aside, that we rather forget in order to move on with our lives, and having them sink into oblivion seems like a good dream come true. But is that really so? After all, they are an ingrained part of our identities and what we are today ultimately comes from the lessons we learned through trials and errors we made in the past.

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“You look at a baby, and it’s so pure, and so free, and so clean. And adults are like this mess of sadness and phobias.”

I have always been fascinated with movies written by Charlie Kaufman, notably Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), since his scripts are inhabited by characters that can be easily identified with and related to. They are by no means perfect; each of them has their own problems, but this tendency of reflecting real life emotions is what makes Kaufman movies so intriguing. Here the main character is Joel Barish, a quiet guy who has troubles making eye contact with women he does not know. I enjoy every monologue he makes to himself because they sound achingly familiar to me. Contrast to Joel, Clementine Kruczynski, his love interest, has troubles over controlling her emotional impulses. The other characters, including the working staffs at Lacuna Inc., though seemingly normal at first, are slowly revealed to have their own personal turmoils and a troubled past.

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Stripped away the concept of memory, the movie is at heart a meditation on romantic relationships, and this is where the movie has done its best. We are oftentimes attracted to the ones who possess the opposite personality, because it is somehow a mystery to us; it is something we desire to have because we do not own it ourselves. But this mutual attraction, while exciting and promising at first, will diminish over time as we learn about each other’s flaws, and soon enough it will be replaced with misunderstandings and insecurities due to a tremendous difference in lifestyles. As in the movie, Joel eventually finds Clementine’s expressiveness unbearable, while Clementine soon grows tired of Joel’s emotional coldness and calls him boring. However, in the end, despite knowing that they may have to go through all these doubts and potential arguments again in the future, they still decide to give their relationship another try anyway, because love is worth it.

With a unique mise en scène under the delicate direction of Michel Gondry and a simple yet lovely score by the talented Jon Brion, along with a wonderful script by Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a heartfelt and sincere portrayal of memory and romantic relationships. In one of the more iconic scenes of the movie, we see Joel and Clementine lying happily on water ice where there is a visible crack nearby, showing us just how fragile and vulnerable a relationship can really be.

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