Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is a story about a couple that recently broke up; a high-minded plot set in a world where an immediate remedy for a broken heart exists: a procedure at Medical Centre Lacuna, Inc. which can delete any person permanently from your memories. 

When I first watched Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece as a teenager I had no doubt in my mind that if I had the opportunity to erase someone who had hurt me, I would in a heartbeat. Undoubtedly, this was an opinion of someone who was naive to love. My thought process was backed up by the fact that I was also a stranger to forgiveness. Having an anxious attachment style, I could not comprehend how one could let things go. A brain damaging procedure that allowed you to move on felt like a done deal…

As life played out, I would soon come face to face with one of its great pleasures: an act described by the world’s romantics as “falling in love”.. But I also couldn’t  escape the downside of the universal experience; to get your heart broken. Now, would I get the procedure done? Would I prefer to not feel the pain but forget all the memories or would I prefer to remember the memories and feel the pain? 

In this love story which takes place in Long Island, Clementine makes the decision to delete her ex-boyfriend Joel from her memories as she struggles to move on and heal. When Joel finds out about Clementine’s decision to undergo the procedure, he is left in even more agony knowing he is the only one mourning their relationship. It’s a common post break-up fear. “Do they still think about me?”. Unfortunately, in this case, Clementine didn’t. 

The film unfolds and Joel impulsively follows his ex-girlfriend’s decision and also removes her from his memories. When Joel is in the procedure, we follow a brain map with all their memories in which we discover more of what the dynamic of the relationship was. 

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
Stills from Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.

A complete mess. The kind of mess that can only be associated with love. When watching the film within the context of my own emotional experience, I couldn’t help but resonate with the equal parts beautiful and terrifying chaos of the relationship I was witnessing on-screen. Every instance of romantic love starts with the meeting of two strangers who will eventually make their way into each other’s hearts, until they’re left not remembering what life is like without the other. The beauty of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind is that it portrays love as it is. Intense, complicated, unpredictable, raw. But also rewarding, hopeful, insightful and sweet…

When heartbroken, I felt confused—the same experience I had when watching this film for the first time. In this puzzle film you are not sure of the time frame, which mimics memories and makes you question the accuracy of them, especially when your vision is blurred by passion. Completely surrendering yourself to the narrative is the best way to watch this film. Very similar to forgiveness. Accepting and letting it go. So, forgive yourself for not understanding the plot at first.

In the flashbacks of Clementine and Joel’s relationship, we quickly realise that sometimes love is not always enough to make a relationship last. During the erasure of Joel memories he starts to regret wanting the procedure and tries to stop it as he realises he prefers to feel the pain but remember all the memories as Clementine is a part of who he is. Sadly, the procedure is complete, and Joel and Clementine become strangers. 

Luckily, this is not where their story ends; it begins again. And as strangers, they meet for the first time on Valentine’s Day. On a train to Montauk, Clementine and Joel reconnect at the spot they first met. But of course, have no recollection.  The meaning of forgiveness is powerful in this piece as you don’t need to forget, you need to let it go. In this part the lesson is to accept the good and the bad in every person, especially in ourselves.

As the film reaches its climax, we’re shown just how far Clementine and Joel have come in their relationship.  We’re left with the hope that love is consistently beneficial, and in matters of romance, in heartbreaks there is always something to gain, even if it’s only a lesson. Contradicting the quote by Alexander Pope which also served as inspiration for the title of the film: Ignorance, in some cases, is not bliss… especially when it comes to love.  

This film represents so much. Another advantage to having a broken heart is that you are left with a stronger heart. If you are also someone that seeks personal development nothing will make you wiser than experience —  and wisdom is one of the most powerful tools for managing heartbreak. 

As someone who has rewatched Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind religiously, ultimately I wouldn’t take part in Lacuna Inc’s procedure. Love is risk, and the stakes of falling in love are high. We are all humans and most of us will be unpacking our traumas until our very last days. So often when we experience love we will be left broken instead of complete but that doesn’t make it unworthy. It makes it real.

Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind
The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind

Like this essay? Check out this piece on the Cosmic Love of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless…