The sun comes up just as Dr. Mierzwiak finishes deleting Clementine from Joel's mind. Stan removes the helmet from Joel's head and removes any evidence of their presence from his apartment. Finally, Joel wakes up - in the same image that starts the film. The scene plays out just as it does in the beginning of the film - Joel goes outside, sees his dented car...
Meanwhile, Stan returns to the Lacuna, Inc office in time to see Mary Svevo leaving, carrying a file box. He chases after her, but she's dismissive. She makes Stan swear he did not know that she had gone through the procedure. Stan tells her that he once saw Mary and Dr. Mierzwiak together and that she looked "happy...with a secret," but did not know of their affair. Stan tells Mary that he really likes her, and starts to cry as he walks away. She closes the trunk of her car, which is full of files and tapes.
The film cycles back to the first sequence, and Joel drops Clementine off at her apartment after their (second) jaunt to the Charles River. This time, the viewer knows that the young man knocking on Joel's car window is Patrick. Upstairs, Clementine hears a message from Patrick on her answering machine and rolls her eyes. She packs some things and comes back downstairs - but first, grabs a package from the entrance of her building. She gets back in Joel's car and he tells her that the night before was the best of his life.
Clementine opens the package on her lap, which contains a letter from Mary Svevo, telling Clementine that she has had a section of her memory erased. Inside the package are Clementine's file and her tape. She puts the tape in Joel's car's cassette player, and they both hear Clementine's voice saying that she wants to erase Joel from her memory.
Joel and Clementine are both shocked to hear her voice saying that Joel is boring and that she can't stand him anymore. As the tape goes on, Clementine lists all the things she hates about Joel, and how she doesn't like herself when she's with him. The entire scene is filmed from the backseat of the car, so that Joel and Clementine's faces are partially obscured. Both Joel and Clementine are freaked out by the tape, and Joel thinks it's some kind of strange, cruel joke. He pulls over and opens the passenger side door. Clementine gets out of the car - and Joel is shaking. Patrick is waiting for Clementine when she gets home, and she screams at him to go home. She goes up to her room and cries.
Cut to a close-up of Clementine as she drives her car to Joel's apartment building. Joel's neighbor, Frank, says hello to her, but she is confused (because she doesn't remember him). Clementine walks into Joel's apartment, and the door is open. Joel is seated on the floor, listening to his own tape, his own pre-procedure voice speaking lacerating words about Clementine. He shows her a drawing of her that he forgot to get rid of. They listen to the tape together, and on the recording, Joel says that Clementine's shifting hair color is "bullshit," and that the only way Clementine gets people to like her is to fuck them.
Clementine starts to defend herself to him, and Joel apologizes for saying it, even though he doesn't remember doing it. Clementine can't handle the whole thing and leaves. Joel runs after her as she's halfway down the hall. He asks her to wait - and they look at each other for a lingering moment. He can't see anything he doesn't like about her, and she tells him that they are predestined to stop being interested in each other, because that is the way each of them is. They laugh, and say, "okay." Cut to a shot of Clementine and Joel running into the snow, frolicking happily on the beach in Montauk.
There is no denying that the cyclical structure of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a masterful experiment in pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling. However, similar to contemporary films like Memento (2000), the structure is inextricably interwoven with the narrative - it does not feel forced. Screenwriting expert Syd Field comments, "While the tools and technique of storytelling have evolved and progressed based on the needs and technologies of the time, the art of storytelling has remained the same" (Field). At its core, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a compelling love story between two flawed characters, which anchors the viewer in the narrative throughout all the twists and turns.
Both Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry vocalized the desire to show Lacuna, Inc as very "low-tech." This is not the slick, robotic version of the future that sci-fi stories so often embrace (going back as far as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rather, the Lacuna, Inc offices are nestled under the Manhattan Bridge and Dr. Mierzwiak records his interviews on audio tapes. During Joel's first visit to the Lacuna, Inc offices, he sees Stan performing the procedure on an older woman while she watches Super-8 footage of a baseball game. This juxtaposition is symbolic of the fact that Dr. Mierzwiak has devised a revolutionary way to delete an age-old affliction: the broken heart. Also, he appears to operate on the fringe of medicine, so that when the characters in the film find out about the procedure, they do not believe in it, at first.
Ultimately, Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure proves to be more harmful than good to each person who goes through it (in the context of the film). Clementine and Joel are left stunned upon hearing the tapes they recorded about one another before having their memories erased. There is an overwhelming sense of pain and regret during the final scenes of the film, as if the loss of the memories is almost more tragic than the breakup itself. Charlie Kaufman wonders, "How well can you absorb this information [on the tapes] if you haven't really lived it?" Joel, Mary, and Clementine have each lost a piece of themselves during the procedure - the people speaking on the tapes are significantly different from the people listening to the tapes. They have been robbed of learning the lessons that can eventually grow out of heartbreak, rendering them unable to move on.
Mary has a more straightforward reaction to the procedure than Joel and Clementine. She is devastated to find out that she has already had an affair with her boss and had it erased. She is suddenly so indignant about the effects of the procedure that she unravels Lacuna's entire business. She believes in Dr. Mierzwiak's work only until she realizes that she has been an unfortunate guinea pig. Herein lies the problem - the procedure seems like a good idea on the surface, just like post-procedure Joel and post-procedure Clementine know from the tapes that getting back together seems like a mistake - but one cannot control the desires of one's heart.
The ending of Eternal Sunshine is purposely vague. The French New Wave directors Gondry admires often favored inconclusive endings in an effort to reject the traditional narrative plot-line, feeling that it forced an audience to accept a certain point of view. In Eternal Sunshine, the filmmakers refrain from placing a firm value judgment on the effects of Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure because the audience does not know whether or not Joel and Clementine ever get back together. However, the last scene - of the two of them frolicking in the snow - feels pure. Regardless of whatever happens in the future, Joel and Clementine once did love each other deeply, and that love is part of what makes them who they are. Even though they do not remember it, the film itself serves as a celebration of what these characters once shared.
Jim Carrey says of Joel and Clementine's relationship: "she's the wild thing inside of him that he doesn't have the guts to bring out." He can unleash his creativity on the pages of his journal, but can't seem to make the leap to real life. This is what attracts him to her (both times) - her openness, her extroverted nature, her unpredictability - even after he has purposely erased her from his mind. Carrey says that Eternal Sunshine "is a really original way of saying we love who we love and we can't help ourselves."