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In Review: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind

by Aakansha Verma

More than sixteen years after its release, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind continues to be a thought-provoking movie with a complicated moral dilemma at its center: Should people erase memories that are painful to them? And does it lead them anywhere closer to happiness?

Director Michael Gondry’s film, based on script by Charlie Kaufman, explore the intricacies of human emotions, their attempts to escape them and possible fallout in a sci-fi romantic setup. Lacuna, Inc. offers the unique service off erasing bitter, unpleasant personal memories which forms the core of the existential narrative. The film follows a non-linear narrative, dissecting the relationship between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet). The characters are almost defined in polarity with each other, Joel being a reserved introvert living his life by rules and routines while Clementine is a spontaneous extrovert with not much regard for rules and streaks of alcoholism. She is a flawed yet formidable person who refuses to merely serve as means of fulfillment for her lovers. The assertion is integral to separate Clementine from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope which she could have been, given her contrasting behavior and bringing to Joel what is missing within himself and his life. Yet it’s not a relationship that bows to such dynamics.

Instead we observe the highs and lows of the relationship, beginning from the inevitable disintegration and going towards the happier times. It is not an ideal or extremely fulfilling relationship that unfolds before the audience yet it is one whose remaining vestiges Joel desperately tries to preserve in his memory.

The title of the movie is taken from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope. Pope says that the mind which does not dwell upon the trials of the past, the difficulties inherent in those experiences can feel true happiness. The film conforms and contrasts with this idea. Through the parallel track of Mary (Kirsten Dunst) and Dr. Howard (Tom Wilkinson) who runs Lacuna, it brings out the moral and ethical dilemma of getting rid of painful past experiences. The absence of the memories results merely in that, the absence of those memories, but they fail to bring a fundamental change in the person that led them to be drawn into those experiences. Mary, an employee at Lacuna does not realise these implications until she comes to know that she has been through the procedure and her impulses still guide her on the same path. To her living with this knowledge is even more devastating than the memories might have been. She is even going through guilt and regret about having taken that step.

It also brings the idea of cyclical nature of human actions, as much as the characters in the film try to evade their memories, they end up on similar paths again and again. What then becomes the point of erasing memories if there is a fatality attached to our actions and cyclicity to our trajectories! The movie beautifully portrays this existential problem and still concludes on a hopeful note.

The film proceeds in a surreal manner, the dream like consistency of the narrative becomes an experience in itself supported by great performances. It is recommended for the immersive experience it provides to the audience. The narrative plunges into Joel’s mind and doesn’t let go until the audience has experienced everything that he has, the pain of a deteriorating relationship, the happy phase that marks the beginning of it, the frantic and futile attempts to hold on to his lover’s memories, the feeling of being trapped within your mind, and the hopefulness of new future that awaits.


About The Author Aakansha Verma is from the batch of 2019-21 and is an avid reader literature lover, movie aficionado. A purveyor of works of imagination and fantasy. Her experience with seeing cinema a discursive medium presenting complex personal and social issues started with watching Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and it's a love that continues. She is currently the SCC of Trading Thoughts, the literary cell of IIFT Delhi.

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