Progression is a path leading to a better understanding of life. Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of films such as Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York, creates an abyss where your end point is always undetermined. He weaves honesty, underlying through multiple layers of existential meaning. Particularly we notice similarities in these films where the leads feel facets of despair until they can control their timeline ending in accepting closure. But this is lack of acceptance comes from their angst, all the while losing sight of their authenticity.
Joel Barish is an average Joe, working a 9-to-5, feeling an angst that his humanity is unknown. He gives us many known ideas, with the unknown coming from a character’s self-exploration. Joel is lost in his own world. He’s wishing to escape the fundamentality of living each day like it was the previous. One day, on a whim, he drops everything and calls sick in the middle of a windy snowfall just so he can take the next train to Montauk, Long Island. He is looking to find acceptance in what he deemed a non-adventitious life. Joel would later say in his tape, that Clementine has the qualities of a seductress that takes you out of the mundane, which to him would have been a great quality. But he lets it become a burden.
Clementine Kruczynski lives adventurously, but she wants to have both worlds to be unparalleled. At times she is another wild free spirit ready to tackle on the world. Other times she wants the world to stay in a constant, so she could tackle it like calm –ready to settle down–adult. She wants to be hunkered down, without feeling trapped.
But what are they truly trying to find acceptance in?
They are trying to find acceptance in the closure they control and the life they don’t want to live, except they are too afraid to chase it.
The film is about these two lovers who went beyond measures to accept open closure, not a definitive one. The two chose to go through a procedure at Lacuna.
Lacuna is an institution that helps people unabashedly control emotional closure on impulse or after much thought. This all depends on the type of person you are. It comes with drawbacks, mechanical and human, because when Patrick, a technician for them, uses all of Joel’s moves and lines to sweep Clementine off her feet. And yet as this continues it starts to trigger flashbacks of lost memories. The inner workings of the mind are fickle. You can delete memories from your head, yet you can still bring back fragments without the complete thought. As Patrick progressed using poems and giving similar gifts, to, Clementine started to obtain weird neurotic triggers that kept hurting her brain. These triggers have no picture to the memory, despite the emotional remnants being there.
Clemetine chose to use Lacuna as a form of closure, even though it may not be what she truly wanted to accept. We may or may not want to get rid of these memories, but the hurt can be too real. She seemed to be someone who only did it upon these impulses that are part of her personality.
As Clementine described herself to Joel at the bookstore, “too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I am just a fucked up girl looking for my own piece of mind.” Here, further explanation was never needed as she concluded with the notion that she didn’t want to be assigned to his piece of mind. Joel wants to believe that living a full adventitious mind and life is what completes him and leads him to his closure of finally finding love, but his subconscious is more rooted than just that. He lets that idea cover the real closure he’s been looking for… internal happiness. A life can’t be saved until one accepts himself for who they are. He sees through what he believes Clementine really is, down to the multi-faceted layers of her “fucked up” ways. Clementine on the other hand sees his layers.
Clementine becomes this savior Joel begins to project her as being, due to Joel’s mind playing the main setting of the film. This idea that her own struggles are a mere projection of what she wanted in certain memories. When she goes out and Joel stays in, boredom kicks in and her idea of Joel is transformed into something she doesn’t want anymore. Clementine’s authenticity is to know that she will be free in mind, while having mutual understanding with her partner in life and love.
Joel Barish chose the same after learning of Clementine and realizing where his life was potentially heading without her knowing who he is. It was like talking to a stranger in the most awkward way. But as he was under the machine, he realized that in fact Clementine, while not truly his savior, was a positive impact on his life and who wants to be.
Clementine was ready to be a mother and learn to be someone she wasn’t so much of in the past. Insides Joel’s mind he didn’t completely want the same. It was sporadic thinking without having a real working it out talk consisting of pros and cons. In Joel’s mind he wasn’t ready to go back to a life that may have been meandering, while Clementine was finally maturing from old self. He attacked her immaturity as being the sole reason he believed she wasn’t fit for that role. This was one of the very few final straws.
Their ideas for the misinterpretation of happiness are broken into distinct ideologies that may only be temporary forms of happiness. Joel is simply looking for distinct love to a point where his sense of reality always shifts within that context.
“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see that shows me the least bit of attention”
- Joel Barish
It isn’t universally apparent for he only loves one person, and only really eyes one person. Under the same microscope love loss and struck puppies have felt the same way. It could stem from a lack of emotional connections felt between two individuals. Or how the high school chums used to say, “Eye Sex.”
For Clementine, she wants to feel constant. She bounces around distractions faster than a 25-cent bouncy ball you buy at the mall. She longs for people who are reflective of Joel’s type, “nice.” Instead of finding someone like herself who could see her opposite of a concept, but rather a real person with real character.
“And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.”
- Clementine Kruczynski
Joel says he doesn’t see that… until he eventually realizes that is what he sees. To him, she became another person who he thought would save him from his dissociative depressed state. Even though to him, what he really wanted is to let his regrets leave the small locked chamber in his mind. This was particularly seen when Lacuna takes him back to the time where they met at the get together in Montauk. Clementine and Joel were in the beach house and they were kindling close, but Joel chickened out, which lead to Clementine being saddened. She told him to leave. It wasn’t the first time his chicken headed nature amassed the crumbling shit that broke them up.
Underneath all the shit they have built within, these two are more depressed than most characters seen in film. Their personalities fluctuate 50–50 and thus lose themselves in an abyss of repetition.
When the film ends, the two listen to their respective tapes and in each tape the list of problems surpasses the list of blacklisted people during McCarthyism. Of course this is an exaggeration, but they really hate a lot about each other. So much so that they relist and go in-depth to the problems. But they don’t let that ruin another potential run at the relationship. They do find eventual closure knowing that the tapes is giving them notions that they will come to hate each other and drop it all. It can be worked out though and if it doesn’t they don’t care because in the back of their mind it’s another restart into the relationship that created tremendous happiness and despair. Love is a never-ending cycle.
“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the Spotless Mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;”
- Alexander Pope