Study Guide

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Quotes

  • Memory and the Past

    JOEL: Why do I fall in love with every woman I see... who shows me the least bit of attention?

    Clem waves at Joel at the train stop, and when he moves, she leans backward and waves again, overtly poking fun at his shyness. They are both immediately drawn to the other, though they don't know why. Is it possible that the Lacuna procedure didn't work? Is there still some sliver of emotional core left over, meaning that Clem's and Joel's memories are a foundation of their attraction the second time around? Or is it possible that there's something else bringing them together?

    CLEMENTINE: No jokes about my name. Oh, no, you wouldn't do that. You're trying to be nice.

    JOEL: I don't know any jokes about your name.

    CLEMENTINE: Huckleberry Hound.

    JOEL: I don't know what that means.

    CLEMENTINE: Huckleberry Hound? What are you, nuts?

    JOEL: It's been suggested.

    CLEMENTINE: Oh, my darlin', oh, my darlin'
    Oh, my darlin' Clementine
    You were lost and gone forever
    Dreadful sorry Clementine.

    At first this scene doesn't mean a whole lot. It's weird that Joel doesn't know the song, but we don't think much of it until the second time it happens. He and Clementine are sitting on the beach, and she tells him the same thing, after which he sings her the song. We realize that the only reason Joel doesn't remember the song that it was associated with Clem and therefore erased from his memory. Erasing the memory of Clementine therefore erased parts of Joel he may not have counted on erasing. This incident also shows us that because of the procedure, Joel and Clementine's their second relationship cannot be the same as their first.

    Joel sees Clem at Barnes & Noble. She doesn't recognize him and is talking to another man. Joel walks, confused and upset, out of the library and into Rob and Carrie's house.

    This is the first time we notice something is off. Rob and Carrie surely don't have a house that's literally attached to a Barnes & Noble, so maybe it's just clever cinematography. But why do all the lights turn off in the Barnes & Noble when Joel is walking out? At the moment, it just seems strange, but soon we realize that we are in Joel's mind, and everything that falls outside the domain of his memories does not exist. In other words, when he leaves Barnes & Noble, there is no Barnes & Noble anymore, and Joel probably doesn't have an explicit memory of the drive to Rob and Carrie's, either.

    Joel is in his apartment, collecting everything that has an association with Clementine and stuffing it into a garbage bag. When he goes to Lacuna, the people there have him look at and think about the memories associated with these items.

    Lacuna uses items to start the mind map that will allow them to find and eradicate the correct memories in Joel's mind. But these aren't just random items Gondry threw together for these scenes; they're actually found throughout the movie. We don't want to give anything away, but try finding some of these items scattered through other scenes.

    HOWARD: There's an emotional core to each of our memories, and when you eradicate that core it starts its degradation process. By the time you wake up in the morning, all the memories we've targeted will have withered and disappeared, as in a dream upon waking.

    This is pretty spot-on when it comes to how memory actually works. Emotions are attached very closely to memory—especially memories of smell, thanks to our brain structure—so it would make sense that getting rid of memory would entail erasing the emotion associated with it. Unfortunately, the result is technically brain damage, which, despite Howard's reassurance, is a scary thought.

    Joel shifts between emulating his memories and commenting on them. Sometimes he even mimics what he knows people will say.

    Joel has an interesting relationship with his memories. Sometimes he seems outside of them—like when he's talking to Clem about ways to escape, or when he's narrating what's happening. But at other times, he seems to be stuck in the past, forced to act out what has happened. In the first Clemory, Joel chases after her in his car saying, "Let me give you a ride home"—which we assume is what really happened. But then immediately after this, he starts yelling at her that he is erasing her and that he's happy about it. Joel's consciousness is always in a state of flux.

    Joel drives home from the beach party with Rob and Carrie. He looks out the window and sees happy memories with Clem flashing by him.

    These are the final moments when Joel will remember what he had. The two years flow by at a rapid pace and are all tinted in red by the accentuated taillights. The memories are also all set on the beach, and just like the memory of the house, they have a sense of deterioration to them, as if they're turning into tiny little rocks.

  • Identity

    JOEL: Page is ripped out. Don't remember doing that. It appears this is my first entry in two years.

    The whiteness of the blank pages in Joel's journal matches the bleak grayness of the sky and the empty beach. A large part of Joel's identity has been stripped away by the procedure, and he is left with a blank slate. Normally the idea of a fresh beginning is portrayed positively, but there's no doubt in this scene that Joel is feeling lost.

    CLEMENTINE: Agent Orange! I came up with that one. I apply my personality in a paste.

    JOEL: Oh, I doubt that very much.

    CLEMENTINE: Well, you don't know me, so... you don't know, do you?

    JOEL: Sorry. I was just... I'm trying to be nice.

    CLEMENTINE: Yeah. I got it.

    Agent Orange was the name of an herbicide used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War. It kills plants; it's definitely not nice. That's why Joel is politely disagreeing—but Clem is having none of it. This is the first time we really get to see their contrasting personalities: Clem admitting her faults and saying exactly what she thinks, while Joel is trying to be kind and undo her self-deprecation.

    CLEMENTINE: So, I'm eight... and I have these toys, these dolls. My favorite is this ugly girl doll who I call Clementine. And I keep yelling at her: "You can't be ugly! Be pretty!" It's weird. Like if I can transform her, I would magically change, too.

    Even Clem has her own insecurities. As a child she would displace them onto her dolls, having them take on her identity (or at least the parts of it she doesn't like) for her, helping her bear the load. Now, as an adult, she can instead rely on Joel, whose niceness, which at first repulsed Clem, now assuages her self-doubt.

    JOEL: Why am I... I don't understand what I'm looking at. Why am I standing here and—

    This is Joel's awakening. Well, he's still asleep but you know what we mean: he finally realizes that he's inside his own mind when he sees himself sitting in a chair. Just as Joel is literally looking at himself in this scene, the whole memory sequence is basically one big self-examination, with Joel exploring all of the avenues of his mind, getting acquainted with who he is in a way he probably never expected.

    CLEMENTINE: I didn't kill anybody! It's just a fucking dent, Joel. You're like an old lady or something.

    JOEL: Well, what are you like… a wino?

    CLEMENTINE: A wino? Jesus, are you from the '50s or something? A wino? Face it, Joely. You're freaked out because I was out late without you, and in your little wormy brain you're trying to figure out, "Did she fuck someone tonight?"

    In this fight, Joel and Clem throw names at each other like children, playing on their identities. Joel is boring and always worried like an old lady, while Clem…likes to drink wine? That's probably what wino means, but we're not, like, from the '50s or something.

    PATRICK: Baby, what's going on?

    CLEMENTINE: I don't know. I don't know! I'm lost. I'm scared. I feel like I'm disappearing.

    PATRICK: Disappearing?

    CLEMENTINE: My skin's coming off! I'm getting old! Nothing makes any sense to me!

    PATRICK: You're not getting old.

    CLEMENTINE: Nothing makes any sense. Nothing makes any sense.

    Clem is lost and scared because she's in the middle of an identity crisis—and not an angst-y teen one or a mid-life one. She's had a real loss of identity, and she doesn't know who she is. She feels older because she really is older than she believes, having had so much time with Joel stripped from her memory. Of course, what Clem is experiencing parallels what Joel is experiencing in his memory. And in Joel's memory, Clem is literally disappearing.

  • Happiness

    JOEL: Random thoughts for Valentine's Day. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies... to make people feel like crap.

    We're not disagreeing that Valentine's Day was created for commercial purposes, but it's a bit cynical to think it's purposely making people feel bad. We don't think there's anything wrong with a dinner for one followed by a Nicholas Sparks movie. But seriously, Joel's thoughts here pretty clearly reveal how he's feeling about love and relationships at this point in the movie.

    JOEL: Sand is overrated. It's just tiny little rocks.

    Okay, sand does seem to get everywhere after a trip to the beach, but isn't it still fun? Joel may be right, but that doesn't mean thinking of sand as merely a smaller form of something hard and boring like rocks isn't really depressing. What about sand castles? Or sand art? You can't make that out of pebbles.

    JOEL: I could die right now, Clem. I'm just... happy. I've never felt that before.


    JOEL: I'm just exactly... where I wanna be.

    Joel and Clem are lying together on the ice when Joel experiences this moment of bliss. It's not complicated: he's just very happy, in a contented sort of way. This is the moment when he realizes that getting rid of all of the bad memories is not worth losing all the good ones. Will he ever get to experience happiness like this again?

    JOEL: I love being bathed in the sink; such a feeling of security.

    CLEMENTINE: I've never seen you happier, Baby-Joel.

    Not all of Baby-Joel's memories are sad ones. He is really into sink baths, for example. If only we were all that small still… such a feeling of security. But we digress.

    MARY: So you didn't do the erasing?

    STAN: Of course not. God no.

    MARY: And you never even suspected we were together?

    STAN: Once, maybe. I was coming back from a job, and you were at his car. I saw you two talking. So I waved to you, and you giggled, you know.

    MARY: How'd I look?

    STAN: You looked happy. Happy with a secret.

    Mary doesn't want to remember her affair with Howard only in order to avoid making the same mistake twice; she actually wants to keep the memories for the same reason Joel wants to keep his, specifically to remember her happiness (even if that happiness is ethically questionable).

    CLEMENTINE: Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.

    Clem is totally right. She knows that Joel thinks she will be able to make him happy by freeing him from his dull life. But even telling him straight up that they are in the same boat, both searching their own peace of mind, doesn't make Joel realize the truth.

  • Fear

    JOEL: If only I could meet someone new. I guess my chances of that happening are somewhat diminished, seeing that I'm incapable of making eye contact with a woman I don't know.

    It's not that Joel doesn't like people, and it's not that Joel doesn't have an exciting life. It's just that he's scared. Scared of rejection? Scared of opening up? Whatever he's afraid of, it has something in particular to do with connecting to members of the opposite sex.

    Joel experiences memories of himself in the Lacuna office while Howard explains the procedure to him and Stan shows him the items he brought in.

    As this scene plays, what really conveys Joel's fear and confusion and anxiety to the viewer is the music, which you can listen to here. When picks up pace at the end, that signifies the point at which Joel's memories become a montage, and he flashes quickly through multiple memories at once that don't quite make sense. In the present, Patrick is bumping around with the equipment; Joel sees a red light and sporadically hears voices coming from the room, which only adds to the chaos in his mind.

    JOEL: I wish I'd stayed. I do.

    CLEMENTINE: Well, I came back downstairs, and you were gone.

    JOEL: I walked out. I walked out the door.


    JOEL: I don't know. I felt like a scared little kid. I was like... It was above my head. I don't know.

    CLEMENTINE: You were scared?

    JOEL: Yeah. Thought you knew that about me.

    Joel isn't someone who likes adventure; he's more the stay-at home-with-an audiobook-and-a-glass-of-deionized-water kind of guy. So when Clem starts pulling him into a situation in which he is uncomfortable, he doesn't know what to do except escape. (Okay, to be fair, Clem and Joel did break into someone's house, and Clem was about to wear these people's clothes and drink their wine, so it wasn't exactly your typical night on the beach. But still.)

    JOEL: Uh, don't go too far. […] I think I should go back.

    CLEMENTINE: Come on. Come on!

    JOEL: What if it breaks?

    CLEMENTINE: "What if"? Do you really care right now?

    The ice is a metaphor for intimacy. Joel is afraid to take a leap of faith and put his trust in someone. If that someone breaks his heart, he will be left drowning in sorrow and regret… Or maybe it's just ice, and Joel's scared of bruising his bottom. Who knows?

    JOEL: She's not looking at me. She's busy. She's not looking at me. No one ever looks at me. I want my mommy. […] Don't leave me, Clem. Oh my God, Clem.

    CLEMENTINE: This is sort of warped.

    JOEL: I'm scared. I want my mommy!

    Baby Joel just wants to be noticed, like most babies or toddlers or whatever he is. Maybe Joel was actually neglected as a child, which might explain some of his insecurities. But most likely, he was just having a moment of fright when his mom went briefly out of sight.