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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

September 19, 2015

A thought-provoking romantic comedy that asks “what if you could erase the memory of a broken relationship”? I preached a sermon based on this film.

ESOTSMThemes: love and attraction, loss and grief, pain and suffering, the importance of memory and the boundaries of technology.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is an emotionally withdrawn man and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) is his girlfriend who is a dysfunctional free spirit. They are inexplicably attracted to each other despite their different personalities.

They do not realize it at the time, but they are former lovers now separated after two years together. After a nasty fight, Clementine has had her memories of their relationship erased from her mind. Upon learning this, Joel is devastated and goes to the doctor to have the same procedure of erasing her memories done. However, while unconscious, Joel has second thoughts and decides he wants to keep his memories of Clementine.

The title is quoted from the poem “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope (1688-1744). This poem was used in Charlie Kaufman’s earlier project Being John Malkovich (1999).
The memory-erasing company, Lacuna Inc., takes its name from the Latin word meaning a cavity, hollow, or dip, especially a pool or pond. Transfiguratively, lacuna comes to mean a gap, deficiency, or loss. The term “lacunar infarct” refers to a stroke that involves a small area of the brain responsible for a specific function, or ever a specific memory. Additionally, in papyrology (the study of ancient manuscripts) a lacuna is a hole where part of the text is missing, and which can sometimes be re-constructed.

Joel: Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.

 Joel: Is there any risk of brain damage?
Howard: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.

 Howard: …Our files are confidential Mr. Barish so we can’t show you any evidence. Suffice it to say, Miss Kruczynski was not happy and she wanted to move on. We provide that possibility.

 [Mary reads to Dr. Mierzwiak out of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”; the lines are from Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard”] Mary: How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

 [as Joel and Clementine eat out, he thinks about the other glum-looking couples in the restaurant] Joel: Are we like couples you see in restaurants? Are we the dining dead?

 [first lines] Joel: [voice over] random thoughts for Valentine’s day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.

 Clementine: I apply my personality in a paste.

[Mary reads to Dr. Mierzwiak out of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”; the lines are from Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard”] Mary: How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

[Joel calls Clem on the telephone] Clementine: What took you so long?

Joel: I just walked in.

Clementine: Do you miss me?

Joel: Oddly enough, I do!

Clementine: You said “I do” – I guess that means we’re married!

Joel: I guess so!

[as Joel and Clementine eat out, he thinks about the other glum-looking couples in the restaurant] Joel: Are we like those bored couples you feel sorry for in restaurants? Are we the dining dead? I can’t stand the idea of us being a couple people think that about.

Everything that happens to us in life shapes who we are.

The film offers powerful insights about relationships. Joel and Clementine have a chance of enduring if they refuse to forget the things they love about each other in the midst of trial and tribulation. Memory erasure, like most break-ups and divorces, is just a flight from the fact that love is hard.

Kaufman also emphasizes our neediness as human beings. Most Hollywood films tell us we have everything we need within ourselves. Eternal Sunshine indicates that we need each other, even in those times when togetherness disrupts happiness. Happiness is based on temporal, unstable things, but joy comes from transcending the temporal and holding on through all the waves of infatuation and falling out, lust and letdown, delight and disappointment.

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