from ‘Eloisa to Abelard’, by Alexander Pope
What if we could erase someone completely from our memory?
Continuing on the theme of memory, loss and love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explores an alternate reality where this is possible. The relationship of Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) is on the rocks, but the final break comes in the form of Lacuna inc.; (the name referring to ‘lacunar amnesia‘, memory loss of a specific event) suddenly Clementine treats him as a stranger, as if they had never met before.
Lacuna is a service which offers to obliviate someone from one’s memory—the procedure takes only one night, during which all the memories of the time spent together are mapped out and erased, one by one, while the patient is asleep.
Distraught, Joel dashes into the office of Lacuna to have Clementine, in turn, removed from his memory. Most of the film takes place in Joel’s memory; the flashbacks spanning from the most recent events to the day they met. As Joel relives his most precious moments with Clementine, he decides he wants to remember her after all; this sparks a most bizarre escape mission—Joel dragging Clementine away from the original memories, which are literally dissolving from around them.
Directed by Michel Gondry, and co-written by Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine is brought to life through a splintered yet intuitive narrative structure: there are in fact two main story arcs, consisting of the Lacuna employees (who are in charge of Joel’s memory removal) and Joel’s flashbacks. At times these two realities merge, as the employees’ dialogue seeps into Joel’s unconscious as an unsettling background narration. Most of the film follows, in other words, dream logic and may take a few viewings to fully piece the different storylines together. This, I find, is what makes the film so rewarding to watch, apart from the witty dialogue and heartfelt performances by the talented cast.
In the core of Eternal Sunshine is a deeply philosophical message about the nature of humanity. ‘How can we begin to forget someone who once meant everything to us, and what would happen if we met again at a different time?’ At the close of the film we are left with not so much a resolution as a reminder of why we keep trying to communicate and share our lives with someone—as Joel’s wish to keep his memories, after all, demonstrates. It’s those special moments when the world feels connected and meaningful, to be able to share that fleeting moment with someone:
Joel: 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.