The Man Behind the Madness
Whether you think of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak as a savior who can rid the world of all its problems or as a greedy man who's just causing more, there's no doubt that he is the main catalyst for all the craziness in Eternal Sunshine.
At first, it's easy for us to dismiss Howard as the second of those options. It seems like memory erasure is only bound to cause a whole lot of hurt and pain when people get stuck in the same relational cycle, and on top of that, we'd just like to point out that this dude isn't just removing some random external events from people's memories—he's literally taking away a parts of their identities (see our "Themes" section for all the deets).
While the Lacuna procedure may not have been a happy experience for Joel, we can't deny that the procedure does have some potentially good uses. Did you notice the poor older lady sitting next to Joel in the Lacuna reception room with her dog bowl labeled "Buster"? Everyone knows the worst part of own a pet is the whole dying thing; if only dogs could live to be one hundred in human years. We have to ask, is it really so bad to enjoy the companionship of a dog and then forget you had a dog so that you don't have to feel the pain of loss?
Yeah, wait, on second thought, that doesn't sound so great, after all, does it? Isn't it maybe better to work through pain rather than just delete it?
Well, okay, there's also supposedly a cut sequence involving a war veteran going to get the Lacuna procedure done so that he can forget the horrendous death and destruction of the battlefield. Lacuna as a cure for PTSD? That sounds slightly more legit.
So maybe we can agree that Howard might have had good intentions, but it things get a lot iffier when we consider his personal use for the Lacuna procedure. He's a married man and a father who has an affair with a younger woman and then possibly got her pregnant (that's in the deleted scenes). What better way to deal with an affair and its consequences than to just delete all memory of it? You can do what you want, whenever you want, and then just make everyone forget about it.
Yeah, Howard. We're not so convinced that's such a fantastic idea.
In Mary's tape, we hear Howard say "we agreed" to the Lacuna procedure, but coming him, it feels more like he "strongly suggested" it to Mary, and she gave in. Regardless, using this technology to basically undo a personal mistake is at the very least questionable. We really hope it wasn't Howard himself doing the erasing.
There's a strange parallel between our protagonist and ol' Howie. If we think about the degeneration of Joel and Clem's relationship, a lot of it is centered around poor communication—and sometimes just the lack of communication, plain and simple. The fact is that Howard is not much better at communicating than Joel is—and that's saying a lot.
When Mary is upset and crying, for example, Howard could simply address the issue head on, or at least try and console and reason with her with his words instead of his mouth. And when his wife finally lets it all out, he's basically all, "Oh, yeah, honey, so I was having an affair, but I've got to get back to work for know. Don't worry! We'll talk about it later."
Howard's a big fan of saving communication for later; he pulls the exact same thing on Stan. "We'll talk," Howard tells him—but what he really means is: "We'll talk, but definitely not right now… and maybe this whole thing will just go away." Maybe as a doctor who erases people's memories, that logic makes sense. But if there's something Eternal Sunshine is trying to say, it might be that forgetting is not a substitute for communicating.