Since 2011, Eternal Sunshine has been my favorite movie. I had been meaning to write about this for years, but due to feelings I hadn’t properly owned the messages of the movie, I chose to procrastinate until someday. Some-days came and went, and I felt that I understood the messages of the movie, but my external world and internal dialogues suggested that I was just like Joel; unable to accept my actions that caused a lot of the suffering I went through, and desperate for a woman’s affection in order to fill a void that existed long before I had any romantic interest in them. I believe that the movie depicts a lack of accountability in ourselves after we go through break-ups, our inability to accept what currently is when tragedies occur, the means we go to deluding ourselves of something we don’t want to deal with, and ultimately, the utility of breakups or any negative experiences that can provide us with growth for the future
Throughout the movie we see that Joel and Clementine have had negative internal relationships that stemmed from their loss of innocence as children. Joel, although artistic, and a talented writer, felt socially unable to express himself, and “never knows what to say.” Many memories during the procedure take place in his childhood in order to hide her from being erased. He complained to babysitter Clem about his mom never looking at him. It seemed like he constantly just wanted his mother’s love, but always felt neglected and isolated. Another memory from his childhood reveals that he murdered a pigeon in front of other kids that likely offered him social acceptance in return. His fear of isolation or rejection, caused by his mother, was the unconscious motive behind what led to this murder, and the perpetuation of both his pain body and his feelings of inadequacy.
Similarly, Clementine also likely had some sort of isolated childhood believing that she was ugly. The cause unknown, but she says “I used to have this ugly girl doll named Clementine– and I kept telling her don’t be ugly–- be pretty–-and felt that if I could magically transform her, that I could magically transform myself.” Although it never specifically says in the movie, I believe that her overbearing promiscuity and Joe’s thoughts towards her reveal that she is a sex addict. “See Clem, thats where you’re wrong, I assume you fucked someone tonight.” “She’s so desperate for attention and affection that she’ll go around fucking everybody.”
Based on the destructive relationships they had with themselves, it is obvious that their relationship would inevitably implode. We see that after their breakup that they were both in complete denial of anything they did to have caused it, and instead blame one another to try to escape their pain. “Well Joel, the procedure itself is brain damage, on par with a night of heavy drinking,” says the doctor. What else do we do, though, to cope with losing someone we love? Alcohol, drugs, sex, overworking, pointless e-mails, cruising through fb, gambling, over-eating, etc etc. The problem of immediate gratification through these is that its only a temporary fix.
True peace exists internally and the world will flow regardless of their relationship, or anything else. Continuing to deny our own accountability for our happiness and seeking it elsewhere is like like entering a shark cage with immortality and a minute pain tolerance. Although, immortal, it would be a vicious torture chamber where death would be considered a gift. Whatever exists within will be projected out. Although friends and lovers can support us on the journey to awaken, they can only do so much.
No one can save us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
The time after they broke up could have been a great time of reflection for both characters. They could have grown aware of things they did over the span of their relationship to cause their breakup. Awareness is the first step. In my own life I have struggled with the relationship with myself, but it is being cultivated. I am grateful for amazing literature and film, my best friends, and all my bad experiences as well. Holding on has caused me so much shame and pain between 2014 and 2016. I was in pain for so long before because I was so dependent on girls I dated, and my friends for constant attention and affection. This, like Joel and Clem, was the root of my problem and only manifested into a binge drinking problem and some extremely toxic thoughts of myself.
I also identified so much with the guilt I felt for sabotaging my relationship with my ex gf of 1 year in 2013. She was genuinely the most incredible woman I still have met to this day, but sadly she still will likely never speak to me again. I still feel guilt, but understanding that I am not a terrible person, but only said some unforgivable and treasonous things after she brittled me down for two weeks before breaking up with me. Like in Life of Pi, “the worst is that the cook brought out the evil in me.” It took me two years to forgive myself. She still has a special place in my heart no one will ever replace. Her love, although non-existent in the real word, was accessed in me, and by remembering her it will never die. Remembering someone is the most sacred thing you can do for someone, what Clem wishes Joel when she leaves.
How happy is the blameless vestals lot
The world forgetting by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
Another Prayer accepted another wish resigned
A vestal is a virgin priestess of the Goddess Vesta. Devoting their lives to serving a Greek God as well as chastity, they don’t get to experience the outside world, which will ceaselessly flows irregardless of their ignorance. By living in ignorance, or denial of any inner truth, and devoid of dreams of experiences, their prayers for inner purity are accepted. However, the wish to see the world with eyes of curiosity and wonder, through the lens’ of children, resigned long ago when they conformed to their religion.
By the end of the movie we are posed with the question as to whether their relationship will last the second time, or whether they will fail like the first. There are so many similarities to when they meet for the first time, and when they meet for the first time the second time. They meet in Montak, they both go to the same old abandoned house, Joel is extremely standoffish and reserved while Clem is trying to get him drunk and throwing herself at him, and he runs away eventually. When they have the knowledge of what happened injected back to them they were still the same people as they were when their relationship ended. He hadn’t learned one of my favorite quotes of the whole movie:
I’m a fucked up girl looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.
I haven’t had another serious relationship since my ex, because like Joel and clem, I hadn’t accessed any internal substance. I believe that internal substance is never grown; its accessed, but the overall state we are in will not change unless our actions and thoughts of ourselves do first. By remembering our faults we grow and we in-light-in ourselves and are allowed another chance. A better chance than before because we have created a higher version of our past self. Everybody’s gotta learn someday!