Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by Michel Gondry
A movie is a memory that you can watch.
Everything that has happened has already taken place and there’s nothing you can do to change it. And yet as you watch it – due to a magical mixture of sound and light it all seems like it’s taking place right in front of you. And that it wouldn’t take very much at all to put your hand inside the screen and touch the people you’re looking at and tell them the mistakes they’re making and how to make things better.
Sadly. That’s not possible.
Towards the end of Eternal Sunshine Joel and Clementine get a hold of their tapes. Both of which contain their most intimate and most negative thoughts about the other person. It’s bad enough when the other person hears what they have to say – but the really messed up thing is that it doesn’t really make any difference to the person doing the talking. Joel says the most harshest possible things about Clementine and yet when he sees her again he seemingly dismisses everything that he said himself. Does that mean that even if his past self could reach in and make contact with the person that he ends up as – that he wouldn’t bother to listen? Are we all so narcissitically tied into our present selves that there’s no hope of us listening to alternative versions of ourselves from the past? Or wait – is that the wrong way around? After all a demand that we listen to the past is just a shift of emphasis. If we think that someone is right then that must mean that someone else is wrong – right?
Of course as with all movies Eternal Sunshine is different every time you watch it. Back when I first saw it in the cinema I thought that Clementine Kruczynski was a dream girl. Someone that I hoped that I would end up with. Interesting and cool and artistic and yeah ok – slightly manic – but that’s part of the thrill right? But watching it now all I can see are the danger signs and the multitude of things that would basically make me run a mile in the opposite direction.
But then if the movie is changing doesn’t that mean that our memories are too? Like it seems a bit much when Clementine rocks up at 3am in the morning after crashing Joel’s car and there’s somekind of (baseless?) insinuation that she’s been sleeping with other guys? Like: how realistic is this scene supposed to be? How much of Joel’s memory is real and how much is just an emotional reaction? Like most of the time movies are supposed to be objective – but then again most of them aren’t set inside someone’s head.
Of course one of the things that makes Eternal Sunshine special is that it’s a story that’s at war with the storyteller. Joel doesn’t want to be reliving the memories that we’re seeing because to remember them is to delete them – while for us it’s the other way around. The only reason we know what the memories even are is because they’re being deleted which means that our trajectory is the complete opposite of our protagonist. He’ll never remember the things he sees – while for us they’re saved forever in a one hour and forty eight minute movie that we can rewatch anytime we like. For Joel they are precious moments that are lost forever but for us they’re captured for all time.
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