Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Dir. Michel Gondry. Perfs. Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson. Focus Features, 2004.
Michel Gondry created a film allowing the general public to develop their own opinion of just how strong a person can be once in love; in mind, body and heart. The target audience is clearly the avid movie critic, as well as the intellectual, illustrated by the plot’s overall complexity. Joel, a reserved gentleman, falls in love with Clementine, a very out-going young lady–polar opposites. As the film progresses, the love they share is increasingly engaging as Joel continues to erase his memory of Clementine, as she did him. Their views on life and love cause specific issues within their relationship, and the plot allows them to go back and see just what made that relationship fail.
While Clementine had no problem erasing Joel from her memory, he decided during the procedure he no longer wanted to erase her. Throughout the movie, we see just how strong the mind, body, and heart is in relation to love, and how these three things make us do crazy things. Gondry allows the audience to see each character only as he or she wants them to be.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a stunning picture of how the mind and body can either fight against one another or come together, has attempted to show the world that it is possible to learn to live without someone, but memories can never be erased completely. In the film, Joel’s failure is reflective of this. The real question is whether this is really possible, and if it is possible, why haven’t more people thought to do it?
Love is supposed to be a happy feeling, one that we do not want to escape. On the converse, when gone awry that is the one thing all humans strive for. The plot of this movie, by engaging the audience, further induces plausibility. But is it reality?
The film engages two specific course topics: free will with regard to determinism, and the mind versus body issue. After Joel realized Clementine had the procedure to erase him from her memory, through his own free will, he decided to do the same. He expected the procedure would help him achieve the same results, and successfully move on. However, during the procedure, it is clear that he had no control.
During the procedure, he lost control of his own free will: the procedure now determined his fate. His mind and body are not cooperating with each other. In his change of heart, he attempts to fight the procedure by attempting to convince Clementine to continue running away, to prevent them being erased forever. He falls in love again, thus recreating the cycle. Eventually, Joel’s body fails and all is erased left with no memory of his beloved Clementine.
Before Joel underwent the procedure, he asked the doctor if it would cause brain damage. The doctor replied that the process was actually brain damage in itself; damaging a part of the brain that allowed the memories to stay with Joel was how it worked. Dr. Peter Sterling, Ph.D (1978) states the following about the brains complexity:
The brain is the controlling organ of the body. It receives information from the outside world through the 5 senses. It also receives information from the inside of the body regarding all the body’s internal functions: heart rate, blood pressure, amount of glucose (sugar), oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, etc., in the blood. It also contains information, coded originally in the genes, regarding the needs that all humans share: the drives for hunger, thirst, sex, and so on. As particular kinds of information are taken into the brain by the various sensors, it is stored. Old information, when needed, is retrieved for comparison with new information so that decisions can be made. These decisions include the obvious, conscious ones, such as whether we shall get out of bed in the morning, or what clothes we shall wear. They also include decisions of which we are not conscious that have consequences for every cell in the body, such as how high the blood pressure should be, how much of a particular hormone should be secreted, how much blood should be distributed to one organ or another (1).
These are reasons in which memories are so hard to erase as well as why they are so important. Brain damage certainly negatively affects the memory.
This film portrayed more objective points than it did biased. Human beings want to live without having to think of pain. Erasing memories of people and things that have hurt us is simply human nature. Joel and Clementine show the audience that whether you want to erase memories or not, they always come back cyclically. This is shown at the beginning of the film when they meet for the second time.
Our conscious and subconscious minds are objective to memories in different ways, as well as how someone deals with those memories. A prime example in the film is when Joel is undergoing the procedure and awakes, attempting to allow his conscious mind to overcome the subconscious and keep the memory from being erased. Unfortunately, he was not successful. The power of the different parts of the mind can overtake others.
This film was an intelligent production that required me to use my mind and my philosophical abilities to understand what was really going on. It was witty and clever in its production, and really made me think about how the characters were playing their roles, as well as how they wanted to be portrayed. At first, it was a little hard to comprehend, as it starts at the end, and then reveals the beginning. Movies such as this keep you trapped, constantly building suspense. It was an interesting to movie that allowed me to use my imagination and gave me room to think.
As the scenes passed quickly, it was difficult to keep up and I frequently hit rewind, but continued to engage thought long after watched. The actual thought that erasing memories could be possible was quite thought provoking; all from a developmental, ethical, and moral standpoint. The implications would be much more far reaching than just Joel’s sad predicament.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind is a perfect example of an exquisite and perfectly written movie for the viewer who enjoys deep thought, twists around every bend, and crafty, intelligent dialogue. The cast was a perfect fit and it was very entertaining. Two thumbs up for this one.
Sterling, P. (1978, October 05). Brain damage and memory loss from ECT. Retrieved from