Have you ever wished you could erase those past heart-wrenching break-ups from your mind? What if you could no longer remember the fights, the mistakes, the tears, the nasty words you exchanged – especially those terrible last words? What if you could completely forget about your ex, so it was as if you had never met? Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation and Being John Malkovich) and director Michel Gondry explore this very idea in their science fiction meets love story, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although this film came out in theatres this summer, it just arrived on DVD, and although I rarely truly enjoy a film, I can honestly say this might be one of the most original and inspiring films of the year. (Plus it’s on sale at Walmart!) In this remarkable film, we see Jim Carrey as never before, as he breaks away from his typical comical mold and takes on a nerdy and introverted character named Joel Barish. Kate Winslet, in a vulnerable and impressive performance, plays Carrey’s free spirited, neurotic, and impulsive love interest, Clementine Kruczynki. It is a complicated story with twists and turns and digressions that include other characters played by Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo. Throughout the course of the film, Joel and Clementine’s tumultuous relationship unfolds, revealing profound insight into the meaning of love. The two characters are polar opposites who fall in love and develop an inexplicable connection. But after ending their two year relationship, Clementine first and then Joel each have the memories of one another erased by a company called Lacuna, run by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak. As Dr. Mierzwiak’s assistants, (played by Ruffalo and Dunst) zap Joel’s memories of Clementine one by one, beginning with the most recent, we watch Clementine and Joel’s relationship unfold in reverse order. The job, however, gets botched when Ruffalo’s character is too busy smoking pot with his girlfriend (Dunst), and Dr. Miezwiak is called in to fix the procedure, bringing a whole new aspect to the already complicated storyline. Nonetheless, the core of the movie takes place in Joel’s head, as he struggles to hold onto the memories of the woman he loves. Joel realizes that he can’t change the past – even the bad – but he’d rather have it all – both the good and the bad – then no memories of Clementine at all.
Thus, in this masterfully shot film with a style reminiscent of the film Memento, Kaufman and Gondry, grapple with the concept of memory and how it defines our lives. The film ultimately speaks to the human condition, as it demonstrates the fragility of the connections we develop. In fact, everything the movie says about relationships makes you realize, “that is just so true,” but Kaufman’s true genius lies in the unusually beautiful story that provokes such epiphanies. Through Joel and Clementine we find characters that define the true meaning and reality of love. Deep down both Joel and Clementine are longing for the same thing, although petrified of finding it. All humans long for that deep connection with another, but with that connection comes the risk of hurt and loss, which prevents many of us from pursuing it. Like Clementine says to Joel at the end of the movie, “What if we discover those things we hate about each other again? What if I feel scared and trapped and ruin things like I always do?” Carrey and Winslet both give groundbreaking performances, and we never once doubt the bond that holds these embattled lovers together despite their crippling flaws. Joel is an emotionally withdrawn man with whom we nearly give up hope until we see him when he’s with Clementine. And Clementine, well, her moods change more than her hair. Despite their unusual relationship, we can relate to the emotional girlfriend who loves to talk and the boyfriend who rarely opens up about his feelings. Over a Chinese dinner for example, Joel worries that they have developed into one of those boring couples that other people feel sorry for. Joel even comments after Clementine finishes her beer, “Now she’s gonna be drunk and stupid,” a thought I’m sure most of you men have had about your girlfriend at one time or another. But in retrospect, as he struggles to hold onto his memories, Joel realizes the beauty in Clementine’s flaws and the irony of how much we cherish those things about our loved ones, but at the same time irk us. Despite their flaws, Clementine and Joel complement each other. Clementine talks too much, but Joel’s silence shuts her up. He even says, “Just because you talk constantly doesn’t mean you’re communicating.” Meanwhile, Clementine’s endless prodding and impulsiveness helps to introduce Joel to his feelings and to new experiences like watching stars on a frozen lake.
As Joel fights to hold onto his memories of Clementine, he also witnesses ugly fights and wonders if he can change the bad stuff. He insists to Clementine that things would be better the second time around, but the movie also shows how in love, too often we repeat our past mistakes. But when it’s all over, don’t we all wonder if things could be different if we could do things all over again? One of the truly amazing aspects of this film is that as Joel’s memories die softly and sadly, you cannot help but feel the pain of a lost love again as if it is your own, and since it’s from a guy’s perspective, even you tough Colgate men might even feel a little something. Like Joel, after a break up, we all think about the things we wished we had done in past relationships and the risks we had wished we had taken. Joel repeatedly states how he wished he had stayed with Clementine the first night they met, but he was scared, like a little kid. Finally, all of Joel’s memories of Clementine are wiped away, and we are taken back to where the movie starts – when Joel and Clementine are mysteriously drawn back to one another on a train from Montauk. Despite erasing each other from their minds, their connection proves too strong to break, and when they randomly meet again, they fall in love once more, as if they were destined to be together. With this film, you don’t just watch a love story – you begin to fall in love with what love really is. For if anyone teaches us about love, it’s Clementine and Joel who show that love isn’t the pretty romantic picture we concoct in our minds. Rather, we fall in love with random and unexpected people, maybe the polar opposites of who we are and imagine ourselves to be with. But all too often the ones who touch us the deepest aren’t the ones we are looking for nor the ones we expect. Though they can hurt us the most, they can also touch our hearts and shape us in a way, which we ultimately never want to forget. But although it speaks to the reality of love, this movie is far from a cheesy love story. In fact, it might be the quintessential date movie that girls can actually talk their boyfriends into renting, because, if anything, it’s about life and coming from a male perspective in certain ways, it focuses on when a man loves a woman in a funny yet heartbreaking way.