Ephemeral Moonshine of the Blemished Mind

“Random thoughts on Valentine’s Day 2004.  Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

Jim Carrey as Joel Barish from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004).

This particular film was pegged as both Greg and my number one pick for the last decade and currently is placed fourth in both Greg and my top ten film lists.

The film itself is a masterpiece.  The screenplay by Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufmann is incredible.  The surrealistic and deconstructed story telling really gives the viewer a very unique cinematic experience while remaining extremely logical and precise.  The acting of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (as well as the supporting cast – David Cross as Rob, “Carrie, I am making a birdhouse”) is top notch, while the score by Jon Brion is imaginative, beautiful and haunting.  These many strengths are often the focus of reviews, but what I believe is the most compelling aspect of this film is the unique way that it uses science fiction to explore and communicate some of the most profound thoughts on the nature and possibilities of love.

Warning: plot spoilers follow.   Throughout the film we see the breakdown of the relationship shared by the two main characters, Joel and Clementine, except in reverse as Joel’s memories of the relationship are being systematically erased during a [science] fictional medical procedure.   Throughout the reliving of these memories we experience the real frustrations that Joel and Clementine faced as two very different people sharing life together (Joel being generally presented as more reserved, simple and logical, while Clementine is generally presented as free-spirited, impulsive and emotional).

In the end (chronologically), Joel and Clementine (who have both had their relationship erased via the procedure) have subconsciously ended up at the same place, Montauk, where they had originally met some two years prior.   They begin to hit it off despite the obvious personality differences, but later on discover that they had previously dated for two years and they listen confusedly to separate recordings they had made before the procedure, explaining why each wanted to erase the relationship from their respective memories.  Throughout the film we have discovered exactly why Joel and Clementine have fallen apart, but we have also witnessed unique and profound experiences that the two have shared, leaving us regretful for their inevitable break-up.

Still, Joel and Clementine determine:

Clementine “I’m not a concept, Joel, I’m just a fucked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind.   I’m not perfect.”

Joel “I can’t see anything that I don’t like about you.”

Clementine “But you will.”

Joel “Right now I can’t.”

Clementine “But you will, you know, you will think of things.  And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.”

Joel “Okay.”   Joel is content.

Clementine “Okay,” Clementine smiles and agrees, “okay.”

Highlighted by Beck’s amazing cover of The Korgis’ ‘Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime’, this ending always leaves me in tears because of the incredible way it presents life.  Life is that dialectical tension between the broken and the beautiful, and in God’s grace the broken is made beautiful.  Similarly, the tension of the Gospel is that the wholly-other God, unknowable by a broken universe, has effectively participated in human suffering in Jesus Christ and has invited the broken universe to know him, and in knowing him the broken universe is recreated.  In the end, Joel and Clementine accept a love that is not ‘perfect’ by many standards, a love that is neither about the perfect timing nor about the perfect compatibility, but a love that is based upon a simple, yet profound commitment between two broken people – “Okay.”   “Okay”, knowing full well that they will hate a lot of the other person and “Okay” knowing that to love is ultimately worthwhile.

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About Elijah

My name is Elijah and I am a proud Angeleño-Glaswegian. I serve as Minister of Queen's Park Govanhill Parish Church. My other interests include life in active community, writing, performing and partaking of music, collecting vinyl records, hiking/outdoors, urban exploration, Celtic FC and the Detroit Tigers.

One response to “Ephemeral Moonshine of the Blemished Mind”

  1. Andrew Faris says :

    Elijah,

    Good post. I always thought think of Eternal Sunshine as the anti-Romantic Comedy in all the best ways. RomComs are built on plot tensions where the two people who are supposed to be together- who are “perfect for each other”- have some sort of miscommunication or fight that they must get past. If they can only get past it, they’ll realize how great one another is and they’ll fall in love. The film, of course, never portrays how the relationship turns out long turn.

    Eternal Sunshine flips it: what if you could know how it would turn out long term while you were in the initial lovey-dovey stages? The beauty of the ending is that anything that will attempt to be real love won’t turn a blind eye to faults- it will recognize that those faults are reality, and the only possible response is commitment and grace. It’s a remarkable piece to come out of Hollywood, and I always walk away effected as well.

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