Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Flaws, Lies, Love, and Growth
Updated: Mar 11, 2019
This is probably the last blog I will post for some time unless I find a movie or topic that absolutely inspires me. This Blog is once again going to share some personal information to illustrate the points being made. So lets get to it.
This Film Is Beautiful & Innovative:
The main goal of this blog is to dissect characters, along with some explanation of the plot development because it can get confusing. The screenwriter wants you to see two people fall head over heals first. But this is not romance as portrayed in the golden age of Hollywood like the movie Swing Time or American In Paris.
After some events in which our characters are happy and in love, Joel (Jim Carry) is sobbing in his car. This is because the movie starts near the end of the plot and works to the middle of the story then retraces the past from mid-plot to the characters first encounter with each other. Clementine (Kate Winslet) goes to a company and pays to erase Joel from her memory and when he finds out, he does the same. In this dream like state, we see the fight that caused this series of events and we move through Joel's memory of their relationship. His subconscious tries to fight for Clementine to stay in his memories so it starts recounting Joel's childhood trying to hide her in the in-between spaces of his adolescence creating a strong empathy for him as our protagonist. The movie ends with them in a hallway of Joel's apartment complex after hearing the tape recordings of their first person perspectives before the brainwashing operation. They find out how mean they were to each other but decide to start over. They have been given a fresh start. They cry with each other, and then much like in Joel's dream like state, we see our characters running across the beach repeated in a pattern that cuts the same shot back to back to back, which is a metaphor that states they will love again and again and again.
The love shared between Joel and Clementine is true and pure... I give their relationship a week.
The film lies to us:
One of the first things I learned about film is that all film is a lie; a lie to tell the truth. But even then, film, like any form of art it tells truth that is subjective to what the artist perceives. Yes, their love is pure. But purity is easily tainted and in this story, both of our lead characters are weak minded, incredibly flawed, and perfectly human. I am a firm believer that two people should be brilliantly realized people, and should wait to be in a relationship when it comes. They don't have to be perfect, but they should be where they want to be for the future, and they should meet each other because “The right one came along.” By this I mean that when both parties have adapted their lifestyles to become the people they are meant to be they will in fact be in the right place to develop a relationship.
You are not in the right place if you can look at another person and objectively see them as perfect. Someone you could worship for being so good. Once you realize they are not perfect and may even hurt you, they become your pet monster, and you become resentful like Joel. He literally mimed Clementines words as she said them over a conversation they had at dinner.
Clem: “Hey, would you do me a favor and clean the goddamn hair off the soap in the shower?... Its really... gross.” *handles food* “It's just...”
Joel (To himself): “Repulsive...”
*Joel smiles and nods*
The story we watch unfold in Joel's mind is a collage of bits and pieces of what he knows about Clementine and how they never communicated effectively. Even erasing Joel from her memory, in his mind, was written off. Joel: “You did it to me first.” Clem: “You know me, I'm impulsive.” Really?!?! Now I understand why she was with him in the first place.
Qualities of Joel:
Joel is introverted, soft spoken, has good features, but he's also passive aggressive and an easily manipulated push over. The movie shows us that his peers bullied him as a child, he developed a strong connecting with his mother probably because his father was never around (This is objective but we don't see a trace of his father in the film) and after not having said father around, he probably does what most young men do from time to time, which is to seek answers to their questions of masculinity through bringing them to a woman they love. The proof of this in the film is how he starts to respond to Clementine when he gets closer to her, he obviously feels like the man of her dreams and thus projects his pain in snarky responses or quietly held in anger that we see in his memories. But Clementine is not without her flaws.
Qualities of Clementine:
Clementines dialogue alone shows that she is a damaged person, she is an extrovert, speaks quite often, and has very strong opinions about her ideas and is genuinely independent. She is strong willed which would compliment Joel because he is not strong willed in nature, but her strength actually emasculates Joel because she brings her questions about femininity to him which can result in manipulative or aggressive behavior, but what makes it so hard to communicate with her is that when she "feels," everything is hyper sensitive and extreme. You never know when you are going to upset her.
Having deep emotions can be a curse but it can also be a blessing. In Joel's memories Clementine shares a tender moment with him in bed one night. She opens up with a very important question to a woman.
Clem: “Joely... Am I ugly?”
She then shares a story of her ugly childhood doll that she thought shared a passing quality with her. She felt that if she made the doll pretty, then she would be pretty; and you would have to see this, but she says it with open tears. Joel responds by kissing her over and over saying she is pretty. And then the memory is gone. This is a moment that causes Joel's subconscious to shout from his mind “I want to call it off!” No amount of resentment is worth loosing this memory. She had a very tender and heart warming question, but this question has to come with self confidence in herself, not from what a man says.
The 'T' As In Terrible Plan:
Joel and Clementine lack the right communication, she pushes him openly, and he shoots her down with passive aggressive remarks. Clem: “I want a baby...” Joel: “Are you sure you're ready for one?” These two clearly don't get along but they are absolutely in love with each other which says a lot; but it's not enough. Some would say if you love one another then you should be willing to grow together and to learn how to love correctly. But this is a 'T'errible idea. That's like cutting a relationship's chances to 50/50. Couples who grow together after a time may also grow apart. Growing up can definitely mean growing interests in different directions. This may seem objective because I'm sure relationships have worked when people grow together, but I feel two people should grow before they come together so they don't form a capital “T.” As in they grow up and split right and left.
When I first saw this movie I was too young to understand it. Fast-forward to 2018 and I felt led to explore it again. When I watched this movie again I was told that I should take it slow and not re-watch it over and over again as I tend to do with movies I study. But this time it was because of the impact it would have on me. I was very much like Joel, I mean scary accurate to Joel. I used to be this snarky person not willing to open up but fully willing to express myself in a way that begs for self assurance. In a way it was self sabotage. Like Joel I was bullied at times in my life. So badly bullied that my mind had created walls to keep the memories at bay. So when people said passive aggressive or even outright aggressive things to me in my early 20's, it didn't register in my mind that they were being insulting. My heart was stone. But when pressed and looked into I was a push over. Even to this day after developing emotional intelligence I can be a push over, but I'm learning to stand my ground and I have been succeeding.
Yes, I was very much like Joel, but my biggest tale of enlightenment in this film came from the romance involved. Much like Joel's memories of Clementine I had an idea of what a certain young woman was like in my life. I've had several crushes in my life before, but this was not that. To me this person was amazing, but she was going through some very tough battles of her own. I saw this film a little under a year after I hit a milestone in my life. It started with me hurting this poor girl on accident, but it was enough that I haven't spoken to her in two years. This very special woman (scary accurate to the character Clementine) was the start of what I can say is now the greatest romance I could ever have.
But God So Loved...
I am religious, but I will not pour my faith into this analysis. Lets just say that during this milestone I have had a friend and a good Father to guide me through this hard time. It was absolutely a season to grow. The reason I bring this up is because even though I mention growth a lot for the characters in this film there also needs to be motivation for change. Which is exactly what Clementine is for Joel. There is a touching scene when Joel first asks Clementine out in her bookstore. The end line she gives him is something I still hold onto in my own life. I may never see the woman I mentioned again which makes me sad, but when you hurt someone you seldom get the chance to hear something like this. Clem: “Remember me... Try your best... Maybe we can?!” *Vanishes from bookstore* If anything could motivate a person to change, it is hope. Like Joel, I have hope.
Back to the plot:
Joel and Clementine didn't progress much in this film, which makes the story structure unique in someways, and the love they would have gained they already had. As Joel is getting his memory erased we see different scenes of the people wiping his memory and Clementine feeling as if she is “disappearing.” One of the guys helping along the process fell for Clementine and has been emulating her relationship with Joel to make her fall for him. But this will never substitute for the real thing. When Joel reaches his last memory of Clementine she asks what they should do, and he says “Enjoy it.” They end up in a locked down summer home and because she said “So go!” to him when he brought up his concern about being caught, he left without her. In the memory Clementine asks him to come back and “make up a goodbye at least.” So he does. She puts her hand on his shoulder and says “Goodbye Joel” and then leans in to whisper, “Meet me in Montauk.” In the beginning of the film, we see them meet at the beach in Montauk and develop a relationship all over again.
I do relate to Joel in one more way. I can't remember much about the woman I mentioned in my own life. I just know the feeling I had and I am not quick to give it up. Maybe some of you reading this are going through a tough time romantically. Maybe you need to find hope again, to rebuild or speak up. Maybe like myself, you've hurt someone you intended to help. This doesn't have to be romantic, it can involve a family member, or a close friend. So I want to end this post in a special way.
Instead of sharing the final scene from this film I would like to share a song. Jon Foreman is a song writer for Switchfoot (A Christian Alternative Rock Band) and he wrote a song titled “I Wont Let You Go” Here is what he has to say about it. Jon: “I Wont Let You Go is a song about unconditional love; about a love that will not let go. We've had the privilege of hearing stories from all over the world about how this song has brought people together. Father and Son, Mother and Daughter even Bride and Groom...” I felt like this song is about God's love for us, his creation. I also feel this is for the special people in our lives that need love and attention like Joel and Clementine, we need a second chance with love, and growth to protect it.