Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind invites us to speculate on memory’s permanence and importance. It also invites us to practice an object oriented reading (or viewing, I suppose). For those of you unfamiliar with it, the film tracks Joel and Clementine’s romantic history as it is actively erased from Joel’s mind. Midway through Dr. Mierzwiak’s “Lacuna” operation, Joel regrets his decision to erase Clementine and must navigate through his memories to preserve as much of her as he can.
Much of Dr. Mierzwiak’s success in eradicating Joel’s memories draws from his manipulation of the objects associated with those memories. Rather than having Joel simply recount his soon to be forsaken memories of Clementine, Dr. Mierzwiak presents him with the physical objects that Joel identifies with her. In the presence of these things (a hodge-podge of souvenirs) Joel’s recollections of Clementine are much more vivid and extensive, and easier for Dr. Mierzwiak to map. Dr. Mierzwiak tells Joel, “We’ll dispose of these mementos when we’re done here – that way you won’t be confused by their unexplainable presence in your home.” Dr. Mierzwiak’s reason, though, is likely two-fold. Yes, unexplainable pictures and purchases may cause confusion, but altogether they may work to provide answers. The objects that littered Joel’s house throughout his relationship with Clementine created the context in which he learned to love her, the assemblage that brought them together. Outside of this assemblage, Joel may never have fallen in love with Clementine. To return to this assemblage, though, would make a flood of loving memories, and possibilities, readily accessible to him.
As the assemblage is stripped down, Joel nearly falls out of love. His resistance, though, attests that true love can never truly be relinquished. I think Marie would approve.