One of My Favorite Movies Ever: 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”
-Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope
Oh yes. The film’s title is derived from Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard” which is about the forbidden love between a student a teacher.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has managed to be one of my favorite films of all time for so many reasons, all of which I will tackle in this blog post. Not only does it have a unique and fresh theme, it also combines a comedic slash sci-fi approach on a love story gone wrong with egregious and ingeniously compelling performances from Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
I became aware of the film’s existence some four years ago while reading an almanac but I just dismissed it thinking it was just one of those artsy films of Kate Winslet that contain a lot of sex. See, I was completely wrong. I ate my words (or my thoughts to be exact) because this film is just so beautiful and sublime. It hit me straight in the heart and provoked a lot of emotions inside of me. If you think like I’m overrating it myself then go watch it. I’ve been a fan of movies with great and distinctive themes that stimulate my senses and psyche like Rosemary’s Baby, Black Swan and The Silence of the Lambs.
So let’s get down to my blog post. But before that let me just say that I’m just fifteen years old with no prior experience in the film industry whatsoever so I apologize in advance if this blog post comes off as a little juvenile for your taste.
The film’s opening scene begins as Joel (played amazingly by Jim Carrey) wakes up on a lonely Valentine’s Day. Instead of going to work and doing his usual routine, he deliberately rides a train in Montauk to stroll in a beach because he just felt the need to. We get to hear his inner thoughts like how he abhors Valentine’s Day which he sarcastically calls a “holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.” Joel is a loner, a pessimist who thinks that sand is overrated because they’re just “tiny little rocks.” He’s not one of those guys who are loud and jerky. I can actually relate myself to Joel because we’re more reserved and yes, a little apprehensive. We both have sound and strong minds and we both tend to overthink a lot. Sometimes I tend to think of everything as overrated, especially when I’m sad. When I listen to songs and I’m not in the mood, I tend to think songs are overrated because they end.
Back in the train, Joel meets Clementine (Kate Winslet) who is his total opposite. Clem is wild, unfiltered and has a high energy. Her mood, as what she claims, is as erratic as her hair color which she loves to change when she feels like she should since she “applies her personality in a paste.”
In fact, she tells Joel that her current blue hair is called “Blue Ruin”. Joel is so introverted that Clem is the one who approached him and made the first move. Clem gleefully pleads Joel not to make jokes out of her name to which Joel replies that he doesn’t know any. She then sings Huckleberry Hound’s song entitled “Oh My Darling Clementine.”
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling Clementine,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry Clementine.
Well as the movie progresses, we will realize how prophetic this song is.
Since their meeting in the train, Clem and Joel became closer to each other. One cold morning, while they’re inside Joel’s car, Clem asks Joel if she can sleep at Joel’s house. So Joel agrees, and they stop at Clem’s house where she gets her toothbrush.
When Clem was out, an awkward scene between Joel and a stranger occurs while the former is still inside his car.
Then the screen darkens. Music starts to play. Initial credits start to appear.
We then see Joel crying inside his car while a sad song is playing. It appears that Clem broke up with her.
Wait. We now realize that this movie has a non-linear narrative. We still don’t know if the scenes I described before the initial credits appeared, (train scenes where they meet each other) are really the first one that happened. We will be enlightened later.
So back to the movie. Apparently, the reason why Joel is depressed is because Clem decided to erase the memories of him and their relationship in Lacuna, a clinic that has the technology of deleting a person’s memories of someone or traumatic experiences.
Out of retaliation and yes, frustration, Joel also decides to erase his memories of Clem. He goes to Dr. Mierzwiak and they then make an appointment.
In order to make the deleting process successful, Joel also needs to get rid of all the stuffs, memorabilia and all the things that are associated or will remind him of Clem. The “operation” is performed in Joel’s house by Stan and Patrick (the guy who out of nowhere offered Joel help in the first scene of the movie). Joel, in his mind, will have to revisit his memories of Clem in reverse.
We see his last memory of her, a horrid conversation of the two of them when Clem, who is drunk, comes home late at night, which was also the cause of their break-up.
We also see other problems that hounded of their doomed relationship like Joel’s lack of openness to Clem because of his natural introversion.
Apparently, Patrick, one of Lacuna’s workers, is trying to woo the present Clem who had her memories of Joel deleted already, by copying certain facets of her former relationship with Joel. Patrick uses the dialogues and style of Joel to impress Clem. He also uses the the memorabilia of Joel and Clem like Joel’s diary notes or even the necklace that he gave to Clem before, to impress Clem.
As Joel travels back to his memories of Clem, he starts to fall in love with Clem all over again and begs Dr. Mierzwiak to keep a certain memory like a tearful bed conversation wherein Clem talks about her insecurities and woes as a child or their ice skating memory together.
The movie then takes a fresh and unconventional approach from here on. As Joel tries to evade the process of the deletion of the memories, he convinces Clem that they are just a memory and they’re in danger of being deleted so the two of them constantly run away and hide in a memory wherein Clem doesn’t exist like Joel’s childhood memories.
As Joel’s memories are being deleted, the people, structures and everything around him magically disappears too which adds to the visual effulgence to the film.
When Stan finds out that Joel disappears from the “radar”, a precarious situation since it might jeopardize the deletion process, he calls Dr. Mierzwiak to come over and help him. When Mierzwiak arrives, a drunken Mary Svevo, Lacuna’s receptionist who was also present in the operation, becomes smitten over the married doctor.
This is the time when Mary recites the lines from the poem by Alexander Pope (whom she wrongly calls Pope Alexander before being corrected by Mierzwiak)
They both share a passionate kiss, which Mierzwiak’s wife, who unexpectedly followed her husband, caught.
Mierzwiak’s wife angrily confronts his husband and when Mary meddles with the fight in an attempt to pacify the wife’s ire, it is revealed that Mary and Mierzwiak already had an affair many years ago and that Mary decided to delete that memory through the process that Lacuna offers.
Meanwhile, the deletion of Joel’s memories becomes inevitable as Mierzwiak was successful in “recapturing” Joel and taking him back to the radar.
When it was down to the last memory to finalize the deletion process, Joel and Clem’s first memory together was revealed, and ironically it was not the first scene of the movie where they met in a train. It was instead a time when Joel together with his family members decided to go to a beach and that’s where he meets Clem. Their first conversation was similar to their train conversation in the first scene of the movie where Clem asks Joel not to joke about her name. The only difference though is that Joel joked about her name and even sang “Oh My Darling Clementine.”
When Joel realizes that it was already their last memory and the deletion would be inescapable, he cries and pleads that he would have stayed in their relationship if he had the chance.
Ironically, it was Clem who said that they should just enjoy their last memory together. Before she finally disappears and the process comes to a conclusion, Clem whispers, “Meet me in Montauk”.
So the splendid visuals then take over the film as scenes are fast-forwarded.
It is revealed that Mary quits her job, decides to steal the Lacuna records and distribute it to all their clients, including Joel and Clem.
We are now back to the present (the scenes before the scene where Joel cries in a car). It is revealed that the initial scenes of the film from the beginning to the scene where Patrick offers help to Joel all happened after the memory deletion processes of both Clem and Joel.
It means that when Clem and Joel met in the train, they didn’t really know each other because they already had their memories of each other deleted. What they don’t realize is that they are a former couple and they used to love each other.
So we’re back to the scene where Clem gets her toothbrush at her house and she finds their Lacuna records. Back in the car, she plays the record and they both realize that they were a former couple and all their memories start to sink in them.
At first, they react with bafflement and shock. In the end, after a tearful conversation they decide to rekindle their relationship although they know that they will still commit the same mistakes again and again.
Well, I know the film is much better than how I described it so go watch it. (Yeah, after I gave you the whole plot. 🙂 )
One of the practical lesson I learned from this movie is to make sound and profound decisions. Sometimes, we tend to use our heart more than our head. We tend to make decisions based on what we feel (which are always temporary) rather than what we think. We tend to make permanent decisions on temporary feelings and most of the time, we regret those decisions. Like what Clem and Joel did, they made a decision that they regret although they were lucky that they still got the chance to still know each other in a twist of fate. In real life, we don’t always get that twist of fate wherein our decisions can be reversed so it is always important that we always think deeply and reasonably every time we make decisions because sometimes, their effects will remain for a lifetime and hence, unalterable.
Another thing I realized is that deleting bad memories or something distasteful in the past wouldn’t really do one favor. For example, we all have that embarrassing experiences or heartbreaks or traumatic experiences in the past that we want to forget. Will deleting those experiences make someone happier or more fulfilled as a person or would it just deprive that person of lessons and life-learning experiences that he or she may use to be a stronger and more resilient person than yesterday?
I believe that everything happens for a reason, no matter how clichéd it may sound. Yes, everyone will definitely have a bad moment or bad experience but it depends on that person how he or she will use it. Will he or she use it as a tool to further improve or better oneself or will he or she just dwell on that atrocious experiences to be depressed and never find real happiness and peace of mind in life?
And I believe it is what the film tries to teach its viewers inartificially. You may forget the memories but you won’t forget the emotions and the impulse. For example, Mary may have had her memories of her affair with Mierzwiak deleted but it did not guarantee them of making the same mistake again. You may have forgotten those inconceivable and harrowing memories of the past, but it wouldn’t be a guarantee that it wouldn’t happen to you again ergo it is not an assurance of a gratified life.
The “memory deletion process” that Lacuna offers represents humans’ perilous desire and ambition to use the ever-advancing technology to further dismantle the original and natural cycle of human life in an attempt to make it easier, more bearable and livable for everyone or provide selfish and parsimonious material things to further spoil those who can afford it. It makes sense especially right now that our generation especially mine is very accustomed to everything fast and instant, like instant coffee, noodles and wifi. It is alarming how more and more people especially children are having shorter attention spans. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, people will invent a gadget that enables one to instantly kill a person that annoy him or her or a device that will permit one to erase the processes of pooping and peeing as it may be viewed as annoying and time-consuming in the next generations. You see, technology is being abused and made to break things that shouldn’t be touched just to satiate one’s appetite for a comfortable and hassle-free life. Modern technology rips the word “sacrifice” into tiny bits of pieces and into oblivion.
But above all these, what makes me glued to this movie is the organic, vulnerable and fascinating powerhouse performances of both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey. Kate’s Oscar nom for this role is definitely deserved and thank God she won five years later.
I am confident to say that I won’t forget the impulses and emotions that I felt when I watched this film if ever I will decide to delete my memories in the future.