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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Review: Concept of Memory Erasure!

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, two people, Joel and Clementine, lying in bed together. Joel's eyes are closed, and Clementine appears to be lost in thought.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” follows Joel and Clementine as they attempt to erase memories of their past relationship, ultimately discovering that some feelings cannot be erased.

The Paradox of Forgetting

Does forgetting really heal us? Even forgetfulness contains a remembrance within itself. Therefore, even forgetting forgetfulness will be the true salvation from what we want to forget. If we have experienced a negative emotional situation on a night when we drank too much, we want to remember everything from top to bottom when we come to our senses. If it is a separation, we try to thoroughly understand the reasons for the separation in our minds. Knowing what caused it also allows us to fix it. On the other hand, if nothing is in our memory from the very beginning, we feel a void and get the impression that something is wrong. Humans have a brain based on forgetting without their control, but external interference with memory creates emotional damage. Like Clementine’s beauty.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, two people, Joel and Clementine, sitting at a table and having dinner together.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the most effective films ever made about forgetfulness, produced by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

Meeting Joel and Clementine: A Surreal and Poetic Adventure

The film begins with Joel, who has the curious eyes of a baby who has just opened them to life, not understanding what is happening around him. The screenwriter Kaufman, conveys to the audience what the character does in his social life through his short thoughts on Valentine’s Day. At the same time, the fact that the notebook pages are torn off and Joel does not know why triggers the element of curiosity, and we find ourselves in a surreal and poetic adventure.

Joel, who is not very skillful in doing whatever he wants, is convinced by an inner voice or impulse to go to Montauk for work. When he goes there, he meets Clementine and we get an idea about the characters’ personalities with a wonderful train journey scene. Joel is a lonely man who tries to hide his shyness with his courtesy, while Clementine is a lively, colorful, and social woman who does whatever she wants.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, two people, Joel and Clementine, lying in a bed and looking at each other thoughtfully.

As the film progresses, the magical world begins to unfold slowly. Joel, who learns that Clementine has erased him, decides to do the same and erase Clementine. The procedures are carried out, and when it’s time, we find ourselves in Joel’s mind.

Joel, whose subconscious is filled with Clementine, comes across a beautiful moment as bad memories disappear one by one. From that moment on, he scatters that idea or memory fragment that remains as Clementine in his consciousness in all directions. During this escape sequence, we can infer the difficulty of erasing childhood and embarrassing memories. For example, when Clementine tells Joel “Hide me in your shame…”, the viewer sees Joel being caught masturbating secretly by his mother. While Joel still feels embarrassed when he thinks about that moment, it is a suppressed embarrassment. According to Freud’s view, this suppression is a situation of not wanting to know consciously. The accusation, conscience, shame, lack of self-confidence, etc. associated with the memory move to different parts. When we look at it this way, we can make a Freudian analysis of Joel’s introverted character.

Memory Erasure and Its Implications on Personality and Depression

After Clementine erases her memory, she experiences depression and confusion. This is not something included in the script just for romanticism; on the contrary, it is a condition that has quite scientific foundations. TMS, which is used in depression and epilepsy diseases, is also used experimentally in real life for memory erasure. To be precise, memories can be faded and their pain can be relieved. The memory part of the human brain is located in the temporal part of the head. Visual memories are located in the back of the brain, and senses are found on the sides of the brain. TMS induces fading in memories by being applied to the point where these three regions meet. However, this situation can also lead to moral disinformation and personality changes. Ultimately, in the technique used in the film, the same area is stimulated, and Clementine falls into a deep depression. Similarly, when Joel wakes up in the morning, he finds a strange urge within himself to do things that he wouldn’t normally do. In the end, no memory is completely erased, and feelings continue to live on as a residue.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, two people, Joel and Clementine, lying in a bed on a beach.

The finale of the film is also related to the lingering feelings. Indeed, Clementine and Joel reunite at the end of this story. Separation leads to a vicious cycle. It is also shown to the audience through this poetic spectacle that an emotionally unfinished relationship cannot be ended by reason alone.

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Last modified: July 9, 2023