June 5, 2004

Eternal Sunshine

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at June 5, 2004 10:10 AM

Last night I finally got around to seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Very, very good movie. I was in sort of a weird mood at the time which apparently gave me an unusual perspective on the film; glancing through a few reviews, none of them seem to share my opinion that the ending was a near-total disaster for the characters involved.

I found myself strongly identifying with Joel's (Jim Carrey) opening monologue, which is a little disturbing considering where his character is coming from. On the other hand Clementine (Kate Winslet) annoyed the shit out of me, so I stopped identifying with Joel when he was able to tolerate her for more than about two minutes. I think I've met that personality type before...

Fortunately, because the film raises all the issues relevant to the premise and is somewhat open-ended, it's possible to like it even if Clementine annoys you. So go see it.

UPDATE: If you don't fear spoilers, click below for more detailed commentary on the ending.

Most other commentary I've seen on the movie has been under the assumption that Joel's and Clementine's love was permanent, and the disagreements that led to their breakup were temporary. Under this view it's easy to see how the ending could seem like a relatively happy one, as they are starting over with nearly a clean slate. My impression, though, was the reverse: they fall in love barely knowing each other at all, but as they get to know each other they fight more and more frequently. Their personalities are fundamentally incompatible, and this is what is permanent while their love is transient.

And this is why the ending is such a disaster: if they had remembered everything, maybe they could have tried to make it work, and the knowledge of what went wrong before would help that effort - or alternatively, they could go their separate ways and be wiser about it. If they had remembered nothing, and also never heard the tapes from Lacuna, they would have at least had a clean slate and could maybe have some happy times together before it all goes downhill again. But instead they know it went downhill, but they don't remember why. The tapes (a) aren't enough to prevent them getting back together, (b) don't tell them how they can avoid similar problems in the future, and (c) will hang over their relationship like a sword of Damocles. ("Another one of Joel's self-fulfilling prophecies," in the words of [Joel's memory of] Clementine.) It's tough for me to regard this as a happy ending.


I'm interested in how you would describe Clementine's personality...

Posted by: Tracy | June 7, 2004 7:39 AM

With the single word "Ebola", although this only has meaning to certain people with whom I went to high school...

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | June 7, 2004 10:48 AM

Well then thank you for answering...or not really anwswering...my question!

Posted by: Tracy | June 7, 2004 10:59 AM

I swear I know how to spell...

Posted by: Tracy | June 7, 2004 10:59 AM

I know it isn't very enlightening, but that is how I would describe her personality. :)

More seriously: I'm finding it hard to pin down with words exactly what bothers me about Clementine. But I did think she showed an unusual amount of self-awareness with this speech:

Joel, I'm not a concept. Too many guys think I'm a concept or I complete them or I'm going to make them alive, but I'm just a fucked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.

Guys like Joel (and myself) are drawn to spontaneous women because they offer an excitement that we don't normally allow ourselves. But Clem's impulsiveness isn't the healthy sort that jumps at opportunities to live life to its fullest; it's the sort that acts nearly randomly out of fear of not living life to its fullest (there's even a relevant line here from Clem, but I don't have it). Joel may not be the spontaneous sort, but he can distinguish the more destructive impulses, and we see that by the end of their relationship he has lost patience with them, and even the energy to try to rein her in. (And when Clem is seized by the Imp of the Perverse, she will tolerate no counterarguments.) The sad thing about the ending is expressed in Joel's followup line to the speech I just quoted:

I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.

By the time he's having his memories erased, he knows she's not going to save him, but once he's forgotten he has to learn this lesson all over again.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | June 7, 2004 1:30 PM

That is actually an excellent explanation. Thanks ;)

Posted by: Tracy | June 7, 2004 1:52 PM
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