The movie you should watch this weekend: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the heart wants what it wants

screenmixJuly 10, 2021

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opens with Jim Carrey’s Joel Barish waking up from sleep. He looks calm and well-rested. It’s a new day, a fresh start. But, the thing about life is you cannot really wish away yesterday. The past will always leave a mark, or a hint, or a deep scratch on your car. You can’t rid yourself of it completely. Or can you?

Director Michel Gondry imagines a world where people can erase unpleasant memories such as a break-up as easy as getting a haircut at a salon. So they can move on with their lives without any emotional baggage. Was she correct? Should I have tried a bit harder to save the relationship? Will I meet someone like her again? Will I be happy ever again? No, sir. The great tragic love stories have taught us that you can’t make peace with such depths of regrets and despair. It is a tediously soul-crushing process, which involves days, months and even years of agonising over every little gesture, and word that was exchanged. By the time one makes peace with a lost relationship, that person would have ended a few more. It would be far easier to pick up an eraser and get rid of all the memories, which could spare us all the misery.

But, to return to the question, can one really erase the past? It is not as if the human brain is a simple and uncomplicated piece of hardware like a hard disk or a memory card. Each memory generates a unique emotional experience, which gets safely stored in deep vaults of hearts. And then humans have this singular power called instinct. While our brain could be manipulated into believing in a lie, no amount of scientific trickery would be enough to beat the gut feeling.

So, the question remains, will Joel Barish succeed in completely erasing the past? It is not a simple task either. In many ways, he will be messing with the very fabric of human existence and the almighty called fate. It is the same question that director Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian crime drama A Clockwork Orange also pondered over. Can we change the personality of a man and thus his future choices by rewiring his brain?

Perhaps, that is the reason the first time we see Kate Winslet’s Clementine, she is wearing a bright orange sweatshirt. It could be Gondry’s nod to Kubrick’s film. Or it could simply be a creative decision to make it easy for Joel to spot Clementine by a mile.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind offers more than a deeply profound question for us to brood over. It is visually a comforting film, despite its chaotic rhythm. From the very first meeting of Joel and Clementine, we are unknowingly invested in their relationship. Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay presents Joel and Clementine as these odd people, who have a tough time getting along with the made-up social customs.

Joel and Clementine meet on Valentine’s Day and both feel a little left out as they don’t have anyone to spend the special day with. And you immediately buy into the premise, when Joel describes Valentine’s Day as “the holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.” Everyone could relate to the sentiment behind that statement.

The film begins with a vibe of a regular boy-meets-girl flick. But, it takes a while before you realise that it is a boy-meets-girl-over-again flick. One should have guessed it when Joel claims “he’s not very impulsive” at the very beginning of the movie. We all know impulsive is Jim Carrey’s middle name. And when he is cast to play a character, which is shy, timid and can’t make faces, we should have guessed this film will challenge everything we presume to know.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is streaming on Netflix.