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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is romantic sci-fi of two love birds who get into a fight which leads to a break up only to have each other erased from their memories. The couple later meets again in the same place they first met each other and fell in love once again as complete strangers. Later, they learn about their first relationship and the circumstances leading to its end but this doesn’t stop them from trying again despite the fact that they knew it would never work. Michael Gondry directed the film, which highly utilizes indirect narrative portrays our past as an inevitable part of us that we can’t run away or hide from it. The past always has a way of catching up with us and more often than not, there are dire consequences when it finally catches up.
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The story mainly takes placeon the island, Montauk. The island is symbolically used to represent loneliness, seclusion and detachment. Joel and Clementine are two lonely hearts who meet at a beach party and fall in love with each other. After two years together, they fight and break up and both decide to erase each other from their memories. The memory erasing is exclusively offered at Lacuna, Dr. Mierzwiak’s clinic. The name Lacuna means a gap or missing part and is symbolic of the memory lapses one gets after the procedure. Clementine gets her memory erased at Lacuna hoping to move on and forget all about Joel. Instead, she becomes a slave of her own memory which leaves her dejected and confused and easily manipulable. Her life is not normal anymore and her current boyfriend, Patrick, uses her past to get into her heart leaving her more confused andlost. Just like a shadow, our past always follows us no matter where we go or how hard we try to forget it, it will be there ready to haunt us. By having her memory erased, Clementine thought she could cheat the system by dodging the sorrow of losing her boyfriend of two years but instead she became more sad to a point of not knowing what she really wanted. Unlike Clementine, we should accept our past mistakes and learn from them rather than running away from them.
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The character traits each one of us portrays are accrued over time and heavily rely on our upbringing. Character traits are just like scars, they remind us of the past and each has a different story behind it. Joel is non-impulsive, shy and one lacking a driving force. He is anti-social and mostly keeps to himself. Halfway into the procedure, Joel wants to opt out but this is not an option since he is sedated and can’t communicate with the outside world. Joel decides to hide Clementine in the part of his memory that is not targeted. This is when we learn of his sad childhood memories. We now get to know where Joel got his character traits from. His own mum pays little attention to him “she is not looking at me, she is busy… no one has ever looked at me” (Gondry, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) disappointed and sad baby Joe laments. His attempts to erase his sad past led him deeper into his past reminding him of his rejection and weakness (the scene when the kids were pressuring him to hit a bird with a hammer). It is clear that we can’t run away from the past.
Hiding from our past is like hiding frrom who we are and this amounts to cheating ourselves. We should use our past as a blueprint to build a brighter future free from past mistakes. We should learn from our mistakes and better our success. Dr. Mierzwiak hopes that erasing Mary’s memories would make her forget about their relationship. It works until Mary confesses her undying love for him. The doctor doesn’t resist her advances and he is caught red handed by his wife who decides to walk out of the marriage. The inevitable past catches up on the doctor and Mary just like it catches up with Clementine and Joel. The doctor is punished for his mistakes by losing a wife and the mother to his children. On the other hand, Mary loses her job when she quits and the guilt she had earlier suffered resurfaced. Hiding from a sinful past is not a solution since one day everything will come out in the light and we will be humiliated. Instead we should take responsibility of our sins and bare the full punishment for them because it is the only way we can learn from them. Mary and the doctor learnt this a little bit too late and perhaps if the doctor hadn’t erased Mary’s memories, he would still be happily married.
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Memory erasing is still on the fictional stage. The film portrays the technology as a cause of evil and suffering. We are not certain about the future and so we are incapable of telling whether the technology will ever exist in the real life. What we are certain is that memories are important in our psychological well being. Our memory is not our enemy. It reminds us of where we came from and defines who we are. We should embrace our memory and use it as a tool of shaping our future.
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