Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a non-linear depiction of the story of the shy, introverted Joel Barish and the free-spirited Clementine Kruczynski through time and memories. Each one of them attempts to forget the other with the help of Dr. Howard Meirzwaik.
I believe that the film could symbolize the passage of time with real-life relationships. After a relationship beaks apart, the first instinct is to live through the pain. After this, we move on, attempting to forget everything related to the relationship, as Joel did through the procedure. While we may successfully erase memories (a process that takes months, at times, years), one thing we cannot do is erase the feelings associated to the memories. Every memory becomes a part of our identity, and each memory teaches us something which cannot be unlearned. As time fades our memories to dust, we finally come to peace with the fact that it is over, as shown by the goodbyes exchanged by Joel and Clementine at the beach house.
Another way to look at this could be through the lens of emotion. In every relationship, we attempt to forget the sad memories, which is essentially what Joel is trying to do. Joel tries to shield Clementine by the onslaught of sad memories that he is trying to forget by hiding his lover in the happy ones.
The film also shows us the background of the peripheral character – Mary and Dr. Howard. Upon realizing that she had once been the patient of Dr. Howard, she is dragged back into her memories where she was a naïve girl, dating her boss. Eventually she realizes that she has to deal with the past and move on with life. The difference between the broken relationship of Mary and Dr Howard that does not work out, that the relationship between Joel and Clementine that does is also another indication of real-life relationships.
Another track running through the film is that of Clementine and Patrick, wherein Patrick tries to imitate Joel in order to please Clementine, but ends up reviving memories that she had chosen to forget.
Through this beautifully made film, I also realized that although we don’t know where a particular relationship may be going, it is really the journey of the relationship that matters and it the this journey that teaches us to be who we are, regardless of whether or not the relationship works.