Review: Eternal Sunshine (Part 1)
I forgot how much I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however sad it makes me feel. It’s one of my favorite movies, weirdly personal concerning past relationships—and having watched it again this past weekend, I enjoyed again how well crafted, well written, well acted it is. All of its scenes fit together so beautifully…
Even more importantly is how much the movie resonates with me emotionally (and a great many other people, I imagine, who’ve ever suffered through either side of a break-up). It is, after all, far more a story about the agonies of a failed relationship than it is about that relationship being resurrected at the end. Forget the mildly science-fiction element of memory-erasing. The movie chronicles the very real psychologies of Joel and Clementine as they take the terrifyingly step of ending things permanently.
They cannot do so without looking back at the start of their relationship (the focus of the movie), which makes the finality of it all the more agonizing. Their break-up means the end of everything—no more fights, no more frustrations and disappointments with one another, but also everything else that led up to that point, good or bad. Through the conceit of memory-erasing, if Joel and Clementine break-up, they’ll not only be out of each other’s lives forever, but will have never existed to one another—and the knowledge of that shakes them completely.
And ultimately, they can’t go through with it.
At the end (or rather, the beginning) of the movie, Joel and Clementine reunite. Although their memories of one another have been erased, they are nevertheless drawn back together. And despite knowing what they’ll eventually think of each other, all the faults they’ll find, they nevertheless decide to give their relationship another chance.
It’s still a heartbreaking ending. Although they ultimately return to their relationship, it remains doomed. They haven’t worked through any of their problems, they’ve only temporarily “reset” things to the beginning. The original script had Clementine unknowingly having her memory erased again and again—meaning, although they keep reconciling, their relationship ultimate fails, again and again, unavoidably.
This last time I watched the movie, however, I found another ending I almost preferred—at least, for how I connected with the movie.
Near the end, Joel remembers meeting Clementine for the very first time, at a party on the beach. Later that night, they run off into an empty house where Clementine almost convinces Joel to spend the night with her. It’s the last memory he has of her. And before it’s erased, she asks him to spend the night again—to stay this time, and make a new memory. But he can’t. That’s not how it works; he didn’t stay the first time, he ran off, embarrassed, and confused, and smitten—but he ran off. So he can’t remember staying with her this time.
She at least asks him to say goodbye, and that he can do. In a way, it’s the break-up that they should have given one another and moved on. They say their goodbyes as the beach house, and their memory of it, falls down around them.
How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d…