Study Guide

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Memory and the Past

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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.

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