What do you do if you’re losing every memory of a significant other? Where it feels as if you’ve poured your heart and soul into another person. As Joel Barish states in the film, he can’t think of a time before her. Moments become so intertwined with one another that they become difficult to pick apart. He no longer remembers a childhood song because of its association to his relationship. A Montauk beach, aptly also known as The End, and the oceanfront house nearby feels familiar but it doesn’t make sense as to why. And as Joel begins to realize what’s happening, it’s already too late. He can’t wake up and everything is set in motion. Piece by piece, memories of Clementine are being lost and his mind is slowly grasping for what it can. He grabs Clementine’s hand and tries to outrun the doctors he hired to do this. It’s a sprint to the finish line but the track keeps getting extended. So, what then? Do you keep desperately trying to fight the inevitability of defeat and regret, or do you cherish those last moments you have left?
Regret is a very odd problem that arises in life. The scope of how much it affects someone tends to fall on the situation, the personality, as well as a plethora of other factors. Some factors are quantifiable, but others can’t always be properly explained. It’s just those things in life that don’t really make sense, but they work out, so in a way they do make sense? Life is wild, so sometimes the chances that get taken end up paying off the most. And what makes life extra wild is that you won’t always know the moment of truth is nearing. In reality, it will come and go, and only through hindsight will you realize what happened. And this is where regret comes into play. Was the right choice made? Would you do things differently? Questions that everybody asks themselves, and they’re simply unanswerable. It could drive somebody crazy thinking of all the possibilities to do things differently. Whether you’re happy, sad, angry, ecstatic, to be where you currently are, there’s always a small voice begging the question: what if? This question is posed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and perhaps the ultimate version of it.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film about life as much as it is a film about love. Rather than live in regret for the decisions made, ultimately, the best course of action seems to be to live in the present, or in Joel’s case, the past (his dreams). Rather than try and hide Clementine from the impending doom of being erased, they embrace the inevitable and attempt something impossible. And life, through one way or another, works itself out; Or at least they hope it will. It’s the trust in an unquantifiable system that makes this film so incredibly beautiful, although it’s also an inherently tragic tale.
In Call Me by Your Name, André Aciman writes, “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” To manipulate natural human emotion the way the characters do in this film is deeply upsetting. To rid oneself of the sadness they’re experiencing, these intertwined moments also erase the happiness that comes from them. It’s not a process that can work overnight through the help of a company and a weird helmet placed on you while you sleep. You don’t question the science of what comes next. You go on a journey through a mind being fragmented, and come out the other side changed somehow. For better or for worse, it’s solely up to the individual to make a decision. Do you follow the voice in your mind telling you to go to Montauk? Do you turn down happiness to avoid any possibility of pain? The film presents these dilemmas to the viewer not in hopes of displaying a straight path through these tricky situations. Instead, it shows that everybody is different, and the solution will never be the same for any set of people. Because once again, life is wild, and there’s no one way. It comes down to choice in the end, and whether you have regrets or not, how you live with those choices come the next morning.
This feels like a jumble of words and thoughts stringed together, and to be honest, I wouldn’t normally put out something like this, but it feels fitting. For a film that is as surreal and dreamlike as can be, it felt normal to hop around so much. With a Charlie Kaufman script that is completely absurd, in all the best ways, but also entirely believable and grounded in such a fundamental truth of life has scrambled my thoughts and feelings into a blender that didn’t have a cap, so now my mind is just splattered all across the room. I don’t know if one viewing of this film truly does it justice, and to be honest, I don’t think ten will either. This is a film that will be held near and dear to my heart, because whether you’re a teenager, growing adult, or in your prime twilight years, it will never lose its relevancy, nor its importance, nor its value. Follow that inner voice one of these days, and get on that train to Montauk on a whim. Or not. The decision is yours, and whatever comes next is entirely in your hands.