Imagine a procedure whereby you could rid yourself of troubling memories. Suppose that you could have particular people erased from your mind. This is the basis of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where just such a procedure helps Joel, (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) help erase memories of each other.
The film plays out as Joel’s memories are being deleted, from the point of Joel and Clementine breaking up to when they first met. At the same time, we, the viewers, are experiencing those memories, in effect gaining understanding as Joel is losing it. We learn about Joel’s past at the same time that he is forgetting it. As we go further and more and more of his memories are deleted, Joel begins to realize that he doesn’t want to forget Clementine and so begins his desperate attempts to escape the procedure and save his memories, all whilst asleep.
The format of the movie in non- linear.
The film ultimately arrives to the conclusion that no, having a spotless mind does not bring eternal sunshine. You may forget a past memory but you can’t forget the impulses, instincts and emotions that arose from that past incident. They are in some sense untouchable because they shape who we are. Take for example, the part involving Mary (Kirsten Dunst) discovering that she had her love affair with Dr. Mierzwaik erased. She arrives to that discovery through her love to him. The weak link in Lacuna’s process is that it successfully erases memories but can’t erase feelings. There is no escape from the past.
After Joel and Clementine learn they’ve had their memories erased because things just didn’t work out, they somehow choose to travel that same road again anyway. I think it’s a perfect ending to a perfect film. As we’re so often told, it’s about the journey not the destination. They know what is waiting at the end of that road and they choose to walk through it anyway. The journey has been erased and therefore, they choose to re-experience it.
So, as humans we might not have as much control as we think on which and what memories we want to relive since the trigger to those memories is not always at our behest.