On a rainy cold night recently, I watched “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” again, the Oscar-winning 2004 film about love by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry that developed a cult following of sorts.
Ostensibly, the romantic-sci-fi-comedy-drama addresses the importance of memory even as we struggle to get closure after a relationship falls apart so we can move on. As more and more of us are serial monogamists and not “until death” types, this seems more urgent than ever.
We may not have memory erasure nowadays, but we most certainly have ghosting — a quick way to end an unhappy relationship that social media has perhaps enabled and even encouraged. But that only adds to the confusion; how can you get closure after that?
Hearing the truth
While there are many, many compelling things about the film, I found myself gravitating toward a teeny-tiny subplot: when both Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) accidentally hear the tapes each recorded of the other in their attempts to erase each other from their memory, they get a glimpse of what their former romantic partner was thinking of them at the time things went south. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty.
Joel was boring, Clementine says. Clementine was stupid and only slept with people to get them to like her, Joel says. And so the things that initially attracted them to each other ended up being among the things that repelled them.
There’s some truth in that. “We all start as strangers, but we forget that we rarely choose who ends up a stranger, too,” writes Brianna Wiest.
Yet, they try again — with Clementine acknowledging that she’ll eventually end up thinking that he’s boring and he’ll probably end up thinking she’s a slut. “OK,” he says. “OK,” she says. And just like that, they take another leap of faith, which we all do every time we enter a romantic relationship — although it’s usually not with the same partner. They’re doomed and they know it; we’re always hopeful we won’t be but often end up doomed anyway.
Easy = complacent?
There are lots of articles on the “secret” to long-lasting love, usually tapping into the wisdom of a couple who have hit, 50, 60, 70 years or more of marital “bliss.” Usually, it’s about having good communication, which makes sense. Still, many of us want a relationship to be easy, forgetting that “easy” can lead us to become complacent. That doesn’t work well, as even Susan Sarandon discovered.
Among the many things the movie made me think about was this: perhaps if we want to have long-lasting love we have to keep finding new things to love about each other instead of just thinking of our beloved as static — he’s this, she’s that — which, as Clementine and Joel discover, only leads to frustration, disappointment and, eventually, rejection. Of course, in order for our beloved to find new things to love about us, we just might have to actually offer new things to love.
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