Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Describe how Clementine's changing hair colors signify the different stages of her relationship with Joel.

    Joel describes Clementine's hair color as an affect that she puts on, but it is also indicative of her moods in Eternal Sunshine. In addition, it is also clever device that Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry utilize to help the viewer keep the story straight. Chronologically, when Joel and Clementine meet for the first time in Montauk, her hair is green, which often alludes to something new and naive. When Joel tracks Clementine down at Barnes & Noble, her hair is red, which is indicative of the burning infatuation and giddiness they feel while falling in love. Then, her hair is orange (which is the root of her nickname, 'Tangerine'), which could represent the fact that the fire between them is dying out, but it also is the phase of their relationship when Joel and Clementine really become vulnerable with each other. Finally, her hair is blue after she has her memory erased, which clearly invokes the sadness and emptiness she feels.

  2. 2

    Patrick steals all of the things that remind Joel of Clementine. Why, then, does Patrick's seduction method NOT work on Clementine? What does this say about the nature of attraction?

    Patrick's failed seduction of Clementine is indicative of the underlying problem with Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure. Patrick uses physical objects that were once symbols of the love between Joel and Clementine to get close to her, but she clearly senses that something is off. Patrick's gestures and gifts are not natural - Clementine fell in love with Joel, not with the things he gave her or the places they went together. Similarly, Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure relies on erasing concrete painful memories, but cannot address the emptiness that Clementine and Joel feel after losing a large chunk of their lives.

  3. 3

    How does Joel realize that erasing Clementine has been a mistake? How do these dreamlike interactions deepen the relationship between Joel and Clementine?

    After his most angry and bitter memories are gone, Joel can see everything he loved about Clementine and how much he cherishes the love between them, even though they are broken up. In his memories, he sees how good he and Clementine could be together - she brought him out of his shell and forced him to take risks that he would never have done on his own. The resentment lies on the surface, but as Joel goes deeper into his memory, he realizes how much this love was a part of him, despite the unfortunate outcome.

  4. 4

    What can we discern about Joel from his childhood memories? How does Clementine help him reflect on the significance of these memories?

    In Joel's memory, Clementine loves and supports him, despite his humiliations. When he is a young boy asking for his mother's attention, Clementine asks him what he wants, but his mother doesn't. After bullies force young Joel to kill a baby bird with a hammer, Clementine takes him away from the painful situation and spends time with him. She does not care what anyone else thinks, and that is part of what Joel once loved about her - even though her erratic tendencies are also part of what drove them apart.

  5. 5

    How do Joel and Clementine feel after erasing one another? Do they notice something missing? Describe the ways in which Michel Gondry portrays this without explicitly saying so.

    The beginning of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a new meaning after one full viewing of the film. Joel wakes up feeling listless and unhappy, and the cold, muddy light in his room enhances his sadness. His voiceover is flat and unaffected. He cannot understand why he boards the train to Montauk, but he is clearly trying to find something. There is something within his subconscious that is driving this decision. On the train, Clementine, with her sad blue hair, is irritable and scoffs when Joel says he's "trying to be nice." Then, she continually questions her relationship with Patrick, but cannot figure out what's wrong. She tells Patrick that she feels like she's "coming out of her skin," which indicates that she, too, is missing part of herself.

  6. 6

    What does Eternal Sunshine say, on a macro scale, about relationships and interpersonal connections? Use specific examples from the film

    Whether or not the relationships in the Eternal Sunshine work out, they serve as emotional building blocks for the characters. The film indicates that relationships and experiences are part of what make us who we are, and if the pain is gone, we have lost a part of ourselves. This is why the ending of Eternal Sunshine is so significant - it shows that even if Joel and Clementine don't get together, they did once have something worth remembering. Perhaps they will learn from the demise of their relationship, whether they decide to move on with one another or with other people. Similarly, Mary is drawn to Dr. Mierzwiak again because she does not know how badly he has previously hurt her. Her memory erasure has taken her back in time, so all she has is her initial attraction to him. Once she discovers the truth, Mary takes it upon herself not to inflict this blind-siding on anyone else, which is why she returns the tapes.

  7. 7

    The scene of Joel waking up after his procedure appears in the film twice. Compare the impact of this scene in both of these instances.

    Joel waking up actually is the opening shot in the film. It seems like a normal day in a man's life, and most viewers will expect that this is the moment in the narrative where our relationship with Joel begins. He appears to be a somewhat disgruntled, dissatisfied type, and when he meets Clementine, it feels like the start of a quintessential "boy meets girl" love story. The second time these scenes appear in the narrative is after the night that Joel has had his memory erased. Now, the audience understands that Joel is feeling listless because his memories of Clementine are gone, and he is going to Montauk because of a conversation between subconscious versions of him and Clementine.

  8. 8

    Examine the relationship between Stan and Mary Svevo. What changes between them over the course of the film? Why don't they end up together?

    When Mary finally finds out that she has had her affair erased, Dr. Mierzwiak tells her that she wanted the procedure so she could "move on." It seems as though she has moved onto a relationship with Stan, but her admiration of Dr. Mierzwiak and his work is stronger than the goofy dalliance she has with Stan. This becomes clear when Mary kisses Howard mere hours after having sex with Stan in Joel's apartment. She quickly throws away what she has with Stan, because she does not yet see the value of having a nice, dependable (single) boyfriend. Once Mary finds out the truth, she realizes that she has not really moved on, because she just made the same mistake again. By leaving Lacuna and Stan behind, Mary distances herself from the whole situation, so that she can really move on.

  9. 9

    Describe the ending of the film. Do you think it is a happy ending? Do you think Joel and Clementine end up together? Why or why not?

    Joel takes a big step at the end of the film by running after Clementine when she leaves. He is finally able to articulate something that he wants, which he has been unable to do over the course of the film. His motivated action indicates that Joel has grown, and perhaps he will be able to be more open if he and Clementine reunite. Meanwhile, Clementine dumps Patrick, because it does not seem like she actually likes his sappy admiration of her. Perhaps she has grown, too, and will be attracted to a more confident man who does not need her to "fix" him. Nevertheless, Joel and Clementine are laughing together at the end of the film, meaning that even if they decide to separate for good, they can look back fondly on their relationship.

  10. 10

    Analyze the scene, in Joel's memory, where he and Clementine meet for the first time (in the Montauk House). What does this scene imply about the nature of their relationship, and what went wrong?

    The scene in the Montauk House can be viewed as a microcosm of Joel and Clementine's relationship, and eventual breakup. Clementine leads Joel into the house, so clearly she is the more brazen of the two. She likes the idea of pretending to be someone else, which is a hint of the problems they will have down the line - Clementine's boisterous outward personality is her way of hiding her deep insecurity. She also goes looking for liquor, and her drinking will drives a wedge between them later on. Joel, meanwhile, succumbs to his fear and leaves her behind in the house. His fear of taking risks will prove to be a problem later on.