Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Movie Review

Updated: Oct 12

As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was written and directed by Michel Gondry, co-written by Charlie Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth. The film was released in 2004 and has a number of notable stars including Jim Carrey (Joel), Kate Winslet (Clementine), et al. What makes this piece particularly interesting is its focus on life, love, and the incredible hardship that follows after heartbreak, loss, and aging.

A team of scientists created a method that allows individuals to opt into a procedure that would erase any memory they no longer wish to carry. Perhaps those remembrances are of former glories of youth that grow painful with age. Perhaps they are of a pet or loved one that has passed away. Maybe, it is just infidelity. Or, as in the case of Clementine and Joel, a relationship gone awry.

In any relationship, one of two things usually happens: 1) the two individuals grow closer together, or 2) they will grow apart. Clementine and Joel were polar opposites that were attracted to each just for that very reason. Joel was the quiet type of person to get up, go to work, come home, and repeat the whole process the next day. He wasn't good at parties, didn't know how to talk to women, and didn't know how to open up to people. But, he had a fiancé. Clementine, on the other hand, was overtly extroverted, to the point of being socially awkward—an open book to anyone willing to lend an ear. She was also adventurous, the type of person to walk on thin ice and never think twice.

Unfortunately for the two, they would fall under the category of those couples who eventually grow apart, and we see this agonizingly slow process unfold in reverse for Joel as the team of scientists start by erasing his newest memories first. Clementine already had the procedure done, and couldn't recognize Joel if she had wanted. But something goes wrong during Joel's treatment—he changes his mind; he starts to remember the good times that were shared with Clementine (something that is often lost in the fallout of an ending relationship). But try as he might, even to the point of comedic humiliation and harrowing desperation, Joel eventually submits to the inevitable—his memories of Clementine will be wiped by the scientists. His first memory of the day they met being the last to be erased. He sits on a beach eating chicken with the kleptomaniac Clementine stealing a leg or two, resigned to the fate he has chosen, resigned to simultaneously enjoy his first and last moments with Clementine, rather than fighting fate.

Joel and Clementine would end up having the following conversation that is not without irony:

Joel: You know, my life isn't that interesting. I go to work. I come home. I don't know what to say. You should read my journal. There's... I mean, it's just... blank. Clementine: Really? Does that make you sad or anxious? I mean, I'm always anxious, thinking I'm not living my life to the fullest. You know. Taking advantage of every possibility and making sure I'm not wasting one second of the little time I have.

The irony being that both of them, in the process of living life, found it so distressing, that part of it needed to be forgotten; and upon meeting again, perhaps by chance, possibly by choice, started to fall for each other all over again. So, this begs the question: As technology advances, erasing a memory may be as simple as moving that memory to the recycling bin on a computer, and if that is the case, should people delete it? I think in certain circumstances, in cases of abuse or trauma, such a procedure may be beneficial. However, the choice should be left to the individual to make. Perhaps, as in the movie, most would end up regretting having it done and some may even fall back into the same loop they were in before, e.g., Mary (played by Kirsten Dunst). For others, such a procedure may help to prevent cases of suicide.

What should be noted, though, is that grief, be it due to death, or heartbreak, or whatever the cause can be a very meaningful part of life. It can teach us lessons and helps us to define who we are—both individually and as a society. It isn't pleasant, but it is, at least in this era of human history, a necessary and integral part of life.

Movie rating:

Overall - 9

Meaning of Life Relevance - 4

Uniqueness – 7

Other notable quotes:

Joel: Dinner at Kang's again. Are we like those poor couples you feel sorry for in restaurants? Are we the dining dead? Mary: What Howard gives to the world. To let people begin again. It's beautiful. 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.

Did you see the movie? What did you think? What did we miss? Let us know by commenting below.

#memory #love