"What can I say, Joel? You know Clementine. She's like that. She's ... impulsive. She decided to erase you almost as a lark."
One of the first things Joel reveals about himself is that he is not impulsive (he says this when he has a strange desire to run off to Montauk). One of the first things we learn about Clementine is that she is impulsive. She acts on her anger towards Joel and erases him from her memory, without stopping to think about the effect this will have on her life. She ends up feeling aimless and lost. Joel, who has clearly been effected by Clementine's spontaneity, decides to do the same thing, as a reaction to his hurt. However, these tandem impulses end up driving Joel and Clementine back together because even though they are gone from each other's minds, they remain in each other's hearts.
"Now, the first thing we need you to do, Mr. Barish, is go to home and collect everything you own that has some association with Clementine. Anything. We'll use these items to create a map of Clementine in your brain, okay? So we'll need photos, clothing, gifts, books she may have bought you, CDs you may have bought together. Journal entries. You want to empty your home, you want to empty your life, of Clementine."
Dr. Mierzwiak equates Joel emptying his home of Clementine to Joel emptying his life of Clementine, which is the inherent problem with his procedure. Although it is easy for Joel to grab all of the physical objects that remind him of Clementine and throw them in a garbage bag, it is not quite so easy for Dr. Mierzwiak and his team to erase Clementine from Joel's mind. He fights the procedure as best he can. Even though he fails to stop the procedure, Joel and Clementine make a subconscious pact to meet in Montauk. This promise exists on a higher plane than journal entries or CDs. There is something that will keep driving them together, despite the eradication of any physical evidence.
"Look at it out here! It's all falling apart. I'm erasing you, and I'm happy! You did it to me first. I can't believe you did this to me. Clem! Did you hear me? By morning, you'll be gone! The perfect ending to this piece of shit story!"
This is the root of Joel's decision to erase Clementine. She is impulsive and erased Joel because she was angry with him, and he then did it out of hurt and spite. However, as his memories start to crumble and fade, he realizes that he's made a mistake. There are moments of contentment and happiness that Joel cherishes, and he can only see them when the "piece of shit story" has melted away into Dr. Mierzwiak's machines. He screams that he is happy, which he is clearly not. In comparison, Joel tells Clementine that he is perfectly content when they are lying on the Charles River together (for the first time) - but unfortunately, this beautiful moment is flushed away with the hurtful ones.
"It's amazing, isn't it? What Howard gives to the world? To let people begin again. It's beautiful, you look at a baby and it's so pure, and so free, and so clean, and adults are like this mess of sadness and phobias, and Howard just makes it all go away."
On a superficial level, Mary supports Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure, which is probably tied up in her romantic feelings for him. Once she finds out that she has been Dr. Mierzwiak's patient, though, she is not so complimentary. She realizes that for her, "begin again" just means that she is going to make the same mistakes. The difference between a baby and an adult is years of growth and experience, and Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure only takes Mary backwards into naivete, when she was a young girl in love with her boss. Ultimately, for Mary to really move on, she has to accept the past, deal with it, and let it go.
"I could die right now, Clem. I'm just happy. I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be."
This is one of Joel's happy memories with Clementine that he desperately wants to hold onto, but Dr. Mierzwiak finds it and deletes it. However, he does get to relive it a second time after his and Clementine's meeting in Montauk, even though he does not know he has done it once before. The beauty and contentment of this moment is diluted when Patrick tries to take Joel's place and re-create it with Clementine. However, Clementine can sense that lying on the river with Patrick just doesn't feel right, and runs off the ice. Michel Gondry comments that critics read the crack in the ice as a symbol for the problems in Joel and Clementine's relationship, but Gondry claims he just positioned them actors near the crack so that the ice would not look fake (it's not).
"Joel, look at me. You'll remember me in the morning, and you'll come to me, and you'll tell me about us, and we'll start over."
The version of Clementine that says this to Joel is all in his head, but the fact that he is able to conjure her up in such detail reveals how well Joel knows her. Their connection - or love - exists on a deeper level than the memories and objects that Dr. Mierzwiak erases. The procedure may eradicate Clementine and Joel from each other's minds, but when they meet again, they are immediately attracted to each other. Their reunion proves that Dr. Mierzwiak's treatment does not change the nature of a person's behavior or adjust what that person is attracted to in a mate - rather, it just sets back the hands of time, leaving the door open for the patient to tread the same path again.
"Don't be a monster, Howard. Tell the girl."
"Tell me what?"
"Oh, you poor kid. You can have him. You did."
Just because Dr. Mierzwiak erased Mary's memory does not mean that the rift in his marriage has gone away. Even though Mary does not remember, Mrs. Mierzwiak certainly does, and is less inclined to forgive her philandering husband a second time. Her description of Dr. Mierzwiak as a "monster" is the opposite of Mary's perspective. Because Mary has no memory of her pain, she still believes that Dr. Mierzwiak's procedure saves people. Mrs. Mierzwiak, however, has witnessed the painful cycle of Mary and Howard's breakup, and believes that by keeping the truth from Mary, Howard is hurting her even more. In this love triangle, truth is power and Mary has none.
"Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm going to make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours."
Clementine says this to Joel twice - once during the first time they were falling in love, and again after they find out they have been together once before. The fact that she describes herself using the same words two years apart shows that by erasing Joel from her memory, she has regressed in terms of her personal growth. It does also show, though, that Clementine had Joel pegged from the beginning. He thought she could save him, even though she told him she could not. He learned that the hard way. Now, after erasing one another, they are back at the beginning. They know the end as well, but everything in between is gone.
"I thought maybe you were a nut. But you were exciting."
"I wish you'd stayed."
"I wish I'd stayed, too. Now, I wish I'd stayed. I wish I had done a lot of things. I wish I had... I wish I had stayed, I do."
"I came back downstairs, and you were gone."
"I walked out! I walked out the door."
"I don't know, I felt like a scared little kid. It was above my head; I don't know.
"You were scared?"
"Yeah. I thought you knew that about me. I ran back to the bonfire, trying to outrun my humiliation, I think."
This conversation, which takes place between subconscious versions of Joel and Clementine in Joel's mind, encompasses many of Joel's regrets about their relationship. Regardless of whether or not they end up together at the end, this moment captures the initial attraction between them (which occurs twice). Joel was always scared, and Clementine was the one who could push him past his fear. During the process of losing Clementine, though, he is able to reflect on everything he did wrong. He realizes how important she has been to him, even though it went sour towards the end. Losing Clementine means that Joel is also losing a piece of himself.
"My name is Clementine Kruczynski, and I'm here to erase Joel Barish... he's boring, is that enough reason to erase someone? I've been thinking lately about how I was before and how I am now and it's like - he changed me. I feel like I'm always pissy now. I don't like myself when I'm with him. I don't like myself anymore. I can't stand to even look at him, that pathetic, wimpy apologetic smile, that sort of wounded - puppy shit he does, you know?"
Joel and Clementine hear this tape after they have only known each other for two days, or so they think. It's a shocking situation for them to comprehend - hearing about the end of their relationship when it's only just begun. At this moment, Clementine likes these things about Joel, but after two years of dating, she hates them. However, she also knows that despite this frustration, something brought Joel and Clementine back together, even after their memories had been erased. There was something very real about the love between them. Now, they have to make the decision about whether or not to take a second stab at their relationship, knowing how badly it ended the first time.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by director Michel Gondry.