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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Break-Ups and the Pain in Your Brain

Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an interesting exploration of memory and the impact of a breakup. Can we grow without the memories of our failures? Gabe discusses the toxic couple and the ways our relationships can define us, shaping us into the people we're to become. Kat researches the effects of break-ups on our brains, and the physical and mental pains that come from a split. As well as covers how our brain retains or erases memories for our benefit and health.

Sources in this Episode: ‘Eternal Sunshine’ Destroyed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Stereotype Before It Even Existed Film Analysis: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Breakups can impact you in more ways than you think. Here's the science behind why they hurt so much Using the logic of neuroscience to heal from a breakup New Technique Can Help People Forget Certain Memories Neural Correlates of Direct and Indirect Suppression of Autobiographical Memories

More Study Materials for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Resources | Film Library | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Analysis | Shmoop Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Study Guide | GradeSaver Film Analysis: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – The Cinephile Fix A Film to Transform You: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | The Prolongation of Work • F17.1 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | SBIFF Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | How Editing Shapes a Story How Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Subverts Expectations


Media from this week's episode:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004):

When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a medical procedure to have each other erased from their memories for ever.

  • Director - Michel Gondry


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: It's Okay to Not Be Okay After a Breakup by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Boring Boy meets Quirky Girl. He loves her spontaneity. She loves how he loves her. But when Quirky Girl is revealed to actually be Impulsive and Reckless Girl and Boring Boy is actually Mean and Judgemental Boy, they break up. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an incredibly creative exploration of memory and relationships. How much of love is the memories built together and our raw feelings for one another? Screenwriter, Michel Gondry said of his scripts journey, 'Soon, I had a completely different idea of how I should do Eternal Sunshine. It became about memories. How we are our memories, and how our memories affect our lives. Losing them - before you die - is tragic.”

The film follows Joel and Clementine, an unlikely pair in the midst of a recoupling, a fiery breakup, and their very beginning. While mourning his breakup, Joel is informed that his impulsive ex-girlfriend went through a procedure to erase him from her memories, to forget him and their life together. Joel decides, in a moment of his own anguish and despair to get the procedure himself.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a twisted version of the rom-com, showing us what happens after the meet-cute. The film shows us the flaws in the character tropes we’ve come to find cozy. Years before the term was coined, Clementine dismantles the Manic Pixie Dream Girl idea. Nathan Rabin described this trope as, a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” And those first glimpses of Clementine feel much like this. She wears bright sweaters and changes her hair. She’s loud and attention seeking, just what Joel needs as he muses to himself at how bored he is. Complaining that sand is overrated, just small rocks. But as the story progresses, we learn that these quirks are veiled red flags. In an article on,‘ Eternal Sunshine’ Destroyed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Stereotype Before It Even Existed, writer Allison Herman explains the disillusionment of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, “As we’re taken through the lowlights of their relationship, the audience learns that the booze she pours into her coffee isn’t an endearing quirk; it’s a sign of the drinking problem that led her to total Joel’s car. She’s mercurial, irresponsible, and resentful of Joel to the point of being outright nasty. And, of course, she’s repeatedly described — by herself and everyone around her — as that term more associated with the MPDG than perhaps any other: “impulsive.” But even more damning is Clementine’s own resistance to the Manic Pixie label, even before the label is named. She explains to Joel in the beginning of their first relationship that she is aware of the image she leaves, the expectations that others put on her saying, “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna 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.” While Joel is losing his grip on his memories he remembers this conversation and though then-Joel works to dissuade Clem’s fears, current-Joel knows better saying, “I still thought you would save me,”

And even in the midst of him erasing her, he relies on her or at least his idea of Clementine. He invents a version of her in his mind and enlists her help to stop the erasure after experiencing those first moments of love once again. Seeing her as he had whent hey first began inspires him to fight for her, for them, and what they had hoped to be. In an article on CinePhileFix, Film Analysis: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” they summarize the power of the imagined Clementine quite well. “When they challenge the erasing process by hiding in childhood remembrances and other “off the map” memories, the escape route is always suggested by Clementine. Joel would never arrive to such conclusions himself, but he subconsciously asks himself what would Clementine do and acts upon it. So when she whispers that final line inside his head, what he’s really doing is implanting an impulse; something Lacuna can’t touch.”

The procedure isn’t flawless and reveals that relationships leave something deep and ingrained within us, a mark that can’t be erased. We see this with the side plot of Kirsten Dunst’s character, a young employee of the memory erasing agency, Lacuna. (​The term "lacunar amnesia" refers to the condition in which someone loses memory of a particular thing or event). Dunst’s Mary has a girlish crush on the her boss, Dr. Mierzwaik. A man much older and to her, charmingly wizened. In a desperate move, she kisses him and it’s revealed to her that they’ve been here before. Later, Mary finds her own tape of her recorded interview before the procedure. In a truly, Hills Like White Elephants, conversation Mary explains how the affair started. Her voice frail and uncertain as Dr. Mierzwaik coaxes her forward. Mary then figures out that she had been happy and the idea of erasing someone from your life is cruel and unusual punishment. So she mails everyone’s tapes to them to reveal what they had lost.

We see throughout how the erasure has greatly impacted Clementine’s already fragile mental state. The missing moments, the holes left behind, are nagging at her and she is convinced something is wrong. Our relationships, even the dark and harmful ones, are a part of us. They are our growth, our journeys. We don’t need them, but we have lived them. The beginning of the film finds Joel in an act of unlikely spontaneity, ditching work and running off to the cold beach of Montauk. Here, he meets Clementine, not knowing this is a second first-meeting. They keep catching each other’s eyes but never interacting until they’re on the way home. When Clem pounces on Joel, manically chatting a