Inside, Joel opens his mailbox. His neighbor, Frank, comments that he only gets valentines from his mother, and tells Joel that he's lucky to have Clementine. Joel spies an envelope with Lacuna, Inc's return address among Frank's mail. In his apartment, Joel anxiously tears open a prescription package and, in a series of disjointed closeups, takes two pills. Joel's eyes dart around suspiciously, as if he is waiting for something to happen. He looks out the window and sees the same white van that was following him before. He pulls down the shades and turns off the light. The two men in the white van (Patrick and Stan) see Joel's lights go off, pull over, and promptly start to unload a bunch of equipment. They bring it into Joel's apartment, trying to remain quiet. Meanwhile, Joel is passed out.
Fade to black, and then fade into a closeup of Joel lying in bed, re-living his interaction with Frank at the mailboxes. The memory becomes hazy and the sound distorts. Cut to Joel's memory of making an impassioned speech to his friends, Rob and Carrie, about how he wants to make up with Clementine. He describes buying her a necklace and going to see Clementine, and the film illustrates his memories as he speaks. Joel, holding his gift, walks up to Clementine at the customer service desk at Barnes & Noble. His face falls as he sees her with a young guy (whose face remains hidden). She calls him Patrick and pretends to have no idea who Joel is. As Joel storms out of the book store, the memory shatters behind him.
Back at Rob and Carrie's, Joel wonders if Clementine is acting as if he's a stranger to punish him. Finally, Rob pulls a card out of a drawer, and, despite Carrie's protests, gives it to Joel. The card reads, "Clementine Kruczynski has had Joel Barish erased from her memory. Please never mention their relationship to her again. Thank you - Lacuna, Inc." The words start to fade away and suddenly, Joel is at the Lacuna Inc offices. Dr. Mierzwiak tells Joel that he shouldn't have seen the card. Joel is in disbelief that such a treatment exists. Back at Rob and Carrie's, Joel recalls the meeting and Carrie tries to comfort him by citing Clementine's recklessness. Outside, when he's alone, Joel cries angrily in his badly dented car. Cut back to the Lacuna Inc building, where the receptionist, Mary Svevo, tries to hold Joel back from barging into Dr. Mierzwiak's office. Joel insists that he wants the procedure immediately, and Dr. Mierzwiak lets him in.
Dr. Mierzwiak commands Joel to go home and collect everything he owns that has some association with Clementine. These items will help the Lacuna technicians create a map of his brain, which they will subsequently use to erase the presence of Clementine in his mind later that night while he sleeps. Dr. Mierzwiak speaks his instructions in voice-over while Joel throws all the offending items into a plastic trash bag. The next day, Joel returns to the Lacuna office. Dr. Mierzwiak records Joel describing his and Clementine's relationship. The film intercuts between Dr. Mierzwiak's examination of Joel with visual representations of his memories. One by one, Stan places Joel's objects in front of him and monitors his mental reaction to each item.
Cut to Joel asleep in bed wearing a strange-looking helmet while Stan wipes his memories. Although he is asleep, Joel's mind is active. He hears Stan speaking to "Patrick," and immediately recognizes the name, but can't place it. Suddenly, Joel starts to become uncomfortable with the procedure, and his thoughts become more and more frantic. Clementine barges into the apartment, and Joel whispers, "This is the last time I saw you," signaling that he is re-living this memory as Stan is erasing it. Clementine, drunk, falls onto a chair and reveals that she wrecked his car. Joel angrily accuses her of being a "wino" and cheating on him. She storms out of the apartment and he runs after her, but the memory is now gone.
Back in Joel's apartment, Stan and Patrick talks about girls. Stan has invited Mary Svevo to stop by, and Patrick says he has a new girlfriend but the situation is "weird." Back in Joel's mind, he drives after Clementine as she storms away from him. The scenery starts falling down, signaling that the memory is being erased. Joel shouts after Clementine, "I'm erasing you... you did it to me first!" Joel can hear Patrick speaking to Stan, telling him that his new girl is Clementine, and he fell in love with her while he and Stan were erasing her memory. In his mind, Joel is alone on the street after Clementine has walked away.
Joel and Clementine sit on the couch, eating Chinese food from individual take-out cartons. Patrick tells Stan that he stole her panties and asked Clementine out on a date after they "did her." Joel can hear Patrick, but he's trapped. He's only awake in his memories. Then, Clementine and Joel are at an outdoor flea market, and she tells him she wants to have a baby. Joel, however, doesn't think they are ready and they fight. Clementine yells at him and proclaims that she would be a good mother, blaming Joel for not being able to commit. Her shouting fades as he walks away, and the memory is gone. The doorbell rings and Mary enters Joel's apartment, acting dismissive towards Patrick and kissing Stan.
Mary gets some scotch and the three Lacuna employees raise a toast. Mary quotes Nietzsche. She sits back and claims that Dr. Mierzwiak will be in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations one day. Back in Joel's mind, Clementine kisses a sleeping Joel awake. She complains that he never tells her anything but she tells him everything. This starts another argument, and the frame clouds up and cracks apart as the memory leaves his mind. Joel scribbles in his journal about going to Kang's again, wondering if he and Clementine and stuck in a rut. They eat quietly, but in his mind, he complains about her drinking. Suddenly, he hears the sound of Clementine crying over the phone... to Patrick. He remembers that Patrick is the name of the guy Clementine had been with at Barnes & Noble when he went to see her. In the apartment, Patrick tells Clementine that he's coming over to cheer her up. He calls her "Tangerine."
This triggers a memory of Clementine dying her hair orange, which inspires Joel to call her "Tangerine." Now, he's sure something is wrong - how does Patrick know to call Clementine Tangerine? Meanwhile, Mary and Stan are drunk and stoned, lying on either side of the unconscious Joel, eating a plate of donuts. Mary waxes poetically about her admiration for Dr. Mierzwiak and his work. She believes that Howard is responsible for restoring hurt, fearful, damaged adults to a level of emotional purity, as if they are babies once again.
Even though this section begins on Valentine's Day, it does not feel like the same Valentine's Day that opened the film. The credit sequence has created a separation between these two time periods, and Frank, Joel's neighbor, comments that Joel and Clementine are currently in a relationship. The viewer loses track of time and space. Gondry intended this disorientation, which plays into the mysterious tone and darker elements of this story. (Note: Second-time viewers will notice the black dot drawn on Joel's face, which is left over from his appointment at Lacuna, Inc earlier that day.)
The process of conducting Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure is just as intimate as the procedure itself. Patrick and Stan come into Joel's home, his private space, while he is in a state of deep, chemically-enhanced slumber, for the purpose of extracting deeply personal memories from his mind. Over the course of the film, the Lacuna, Inc employees wreak complete chaos in Joel's apartment. Just as he cannot stop them from trampling through his brain, he cannot awaken to prevent them from trashing his home - and by morning, there will be no indication that they were ever there.
Similarly, Joel's relationship with Clementine has left memories all over the map of his brain, and before he falls asleep, the bitterness of their breakup is eating away at him. However, by morning, it will be like Clementine has never existed. The question becomes - just because the memories are gone, does that mean the love and pain is gone, too? Over the course of the film, the answer slowly comes to light: No.
The scene where Joel finds out Clementine has had her memory erased embodies the inherent problem with Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure. Joel is telling his friends, Rob and Carrie, that he went to see Clementine but she pretended that he did not exist. He is clearly suffering, and reading her actions as deliberate cruelty. What he does not know is that Rob and Carrie have received a card from Lacuna, Inc telling them that Clementine has had Joel erased from her memory and requesting them not to contact her.
In this scene, we see that the process of memory erasure is not so simple, because Clementine's decision causes a ripple effect. Rob and Carrie are divided on whether or not to show Joel the card, but he knows that they are hiding something from him. There is no neat way to extricate Joel and Clementine from each other's lives - in fact, the procedure ends up catalyzing its own strain of turmoil and drama between the pair and the people around them. Ultimately, memory erasure proves to be just as messy and complicated as the relationships it eradicates.
Kaufman and Gondry structured Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind like an onion. The most recent memories lie on the surface of Joel's mind, but as the procedure goes on, he realizes how much he cherishes the happy memories, which have been overshadowed by the fresh, raw pain. Also, by going backwards through his relationship, Joel is able to understand the root of the problems between him and Clementine. Joel could not communicate with Clementine, and would instead write all his aggravations down in his journal. Clementine, though, had no problem pointing out the things Joel did that irritated her, creating an uneven dynamic that eventually led to a rift. But as the memories of the fights disappear, one by one, Joel's image of Clementine reverts to how he saw her when their relationship was in its infancy.
Outside of Joel's mind, Mary Svevo tells Stan that she sees Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure as a way to restore emotional purity and innocence, but Joel and Clementine's example reveals that the procedure is much more problematic and imprecise. Because of the film's opening, the viewer already knows that Joel and Clementine are going to meet again, even after their relationship has been "erased." Unfortunately, these artificially pain-free versions of Joel and Clementine have been deprived the benefit of learning from their past mistakes, and are instead destined to repeat them.