Headscratchers / Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  • Why did Clementine go to Montauk? It was essential to the plot for her to go there on Valentine's Day, so that she and Joel could meet again on the train coming back. But what caused her to go there in the first place? We know that Joel had an urge to go there because he maintained a glimmer of what happened during his procedure, when Clementine told him to meet her in Montauk just before she was sucked out of his brain. But the version of Clementine who told him to do that was just a figment of his imagination; it wasn't part of a real conversation they had, was it? Are we supposed to believe that when she had her own memory erased, she gave herself that same idea, and half-remembered it like Joel did?
    • Yes. Note that she urgently wanted to go to Montauk with Patrick when he was playing himself into Clem's voided memories of Joel. Since it's where the two met, it would be the strongest and last memories visited for both of them, leading to a similar mental chain of events for both.
      • Interesting...so Clementine tried to hold onto her memories of Joel when they were being erased, just like he tried to hold onto his memories of her. I'd always suspected that, but didn't realize there was real evidence for it.
    • I always got the impression that the procedure just didn't work exactly as advertised. I think the ending kind of makes that clear. Joel, Clem, and even Mary all still have the feelings they had before to some degree which would seem to imply that on some level they still remember, if only on a subconscious level.
      • That's because you can't learn from mistakes you can't remember. Of course Mary falls for the Doctor again - since she can't remember that it already happened, nothing is stopping her from falling for him again.
      • Or maybe, like going to the frozen Charles, it's just a "date default" for Clementine and she just likes to go there.

  • Joel's ex-girlfriend. Her existence really, REALLY, bugs me, more than I feel it should. It bugs me to the point that it ruins the movie a little bit. We are given no evidence that their relationship is in any way broken. We don't learn anything that would make her undesirable. In fact, we learn evidence to the contrary (that Joel really does like her) considering that when he gets his memory wiped he thinks about getting back with her the very next day. Then, to make things worse, we learn they were ENGAGED. So Joel apparently left a perfectly fine girl on the altar because he happened to meet Clementine? Even if he felt there was something lacking in his relationship, it is still a huge dick move to just run around with a girl you just met at the expense of your (presumably) longtime girlfriend. ALSO, it completely undermines the fact that Joel's main flaw in Clementine's eyes (and presumably what Gondry wants us to believe) is his hopeless introversion and the fact that he would clearly be a nothing without Clementine. This isn't so emotionally hard-hitting when it is revealed Joel was in a relationship beforehand good enough to lead to them living together and would probably do just fine without Clem. I feel I have to be missing something here. This unseen character ruins Joel's entire character for me. Someone, please, tell me what I missed!
    • Well, in one of the opening internal monologues of Joel when he first mentions/thinks about Naomi, he sounded a little half- hearted, as in 'Maybe I should get back together with Naomi. She was nice. She loved me...' implying that he wasn't really in love with her. I could even go on to speculate that she was introverted and stable like Joel, thus making their relationship somewhat more dull. Who knows? People get engaged for many reasons besides love, such as obligation, or the feeling that they aren't going to find anyone better and should just 'settle'. Clearly, what he had with Naomi wasn't true love. It's probably not fair, but more of a 'life isn't fair' kind of way, so I don't think it particularly reflects badly on Joel's character so much as tells the audience something about his previous relationship.
      • I think this makes the most sense, and there's more evidence for it. In the car after their (real) first meeting, Carrie smiles as she approvingly asks "Who were you talking to?" Either Carrie doesn't like Naomi, or she knows Joel would be better off with someone new.
    • The way Joel speaks of Naomi, I figured they'd reached the "dining dead" phase. He went along with the standard progression (date, propose, shack up, marriage, kids), because the familiarity of dating Naomi was better than the uncertainty of single life. The introvert mindset can be rather self-defeating: "I'm not rich, I'm not handsome, I'm not that interesting, who would want me? If I let go of what I have, will I ever find somebody else?" Then along comes Clementine, and he realizes that maybe taking a chance could be worthwhile.
    • He also split up with her because Clementine asked him to. He was clearly interested in her but she said she wasn't going to be the other woman - if he wanted to be with her then he was with her only. Joel clearly didn't love Naomi enough to pick her over Clementine.
    • To me his immediately wanting to get back with Naomi, post memory wipe, seems like transference. What he truly wants is to get back together with Clementine but he doesn't remember her so his desire for a romantic relationship defaults to the last one he remembers.
      • There's a whole deleted subplot, including some filmed scenes, that explain it a little better. It seems that he was bored with Naomi and Clementine offered something more exciting.
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  • When Lacuna has wiped a memory, they send notes to the friends and family of the person who got his memory wiped telling them not to bring up the subject he wiped his memories of. Are we supposed to believe that no friend/family member ever decided to rebel against that and try to remind him of the wiped memory?
    • If one of my friends or family members went to the extreme lengths of having a person or event wiped out of their mind entirely, I like to think I'd respect their wishes enough not to be a dick and bring it up.
    • It seems to open a door to an entirely new form of abuse, depending on how crappy your family is.
    • not only that, but are they really going to send a card to EVERY PERSON? How about the. Grocery store cashier that asks about your life from time to time, or someone that you haven't seen in months and forgot even met your significant other. I mean...that's a lot of cards. You have to start to wonder how expensive the procedure is, because undoubtedly they add the cost of more than a certain number of cards sent on to your bill. Say, you're a shut in who works from home and only knows 19 people, fine. But I have over 1000 fb friends, and sometimes random people ask your life. Maybe up to 25 cards is free and the rest you have to buy packs for. I don't know, I've thought about this a lot over the years...
      • Don't forget, though, that Technology Marches On. The movie came out well before Facebook and the amount of "social networking" that exists now. It would have been easier, in 2004, to erase one's cell phone directory and so on. Also, after a certain age, needing to connect with hundreds of people (IRL) isn't as pressing as it is when you're younger.
    • I guess Lacuna isn't in business any more. But you're right - back in 2004 things like social networking were something only teenagers, college kids and celebrities did. And even then it wasn't mainstream. Though the process these days could just involve having to block Facebook profiles of the person one wants erased, their immediate friends and relatives etc.
      • Well, in 2004 there was Friendster, which IIRC was the original "social network". But back when I was on Friendster it was far more common to have something like 50 "friends" in your network than the 500 - 1,000 that one sees a lot on Facebook. A lot fewer people were on Friendster as it was predominantly people who were in my age range, those who were either college students or young adults in their early 20s (which I was). The oldest people you'd commonly encounter were those in their 30s.
    • We already saw what happened when a person who can't remember meets someone who brings up the previous relationship. Joel was confused and disturbed by Patrick demanding to know what he was doing there and Clementine (after she had heard the truth) was wary when that one guy knew her at Joel's apartment.

  • Lacuna is only able to map the memories with an "emotional core". Does that mean that memories the person is fairly indifferent about remain? Obviously those don't mean much to the person in question; but he could retrieve them?
    • I think he operates under the assumption that no one would get this procedure if they didn't have a strong emotional attachment to the memories they wanted to get erased. But it really depends on how good he is at his job.
    • The way I think it seems to work is that any memories that could be associated with Clementine herself are erased. But they can't be erased for good. The process seems to suppress the memories so that Joel will never think of them - like how we've all forgotten insignificant things but we remember what's important to us. Howard makes those memories 'insignificant' in Joel's mind. But they can still be triggered. Patrick's using Joel's stuff to seduce Clementine does jog her memories a little. Generally in life all we need is one small thing to remind us...and we'll eventually remember something we've forgotten.

  • There's an obvious paradox overhanging the entire plot of the film. In the later parts of the film when Joel remembers his earliest memories of Clementine, he still remembers having hired Lacuna to erase his memories of their relationship, despite at this point his memories of Lacuna and his breakup with Clementine already having been erased. This probably falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality and Anthropic Principle, however, as the plot of the film would be completely impossible if this wasn't the case.
    • They do mention that it works like dreams, when you only forget once you've waken up. As I understood it, there's "subconcious" Joel, who can remeber just fine, and the "awake" Joel who won't be able to recall those memories.