I’d be a liar if I said that I was never tempted to erase seasons from my own past.
That subtitle says it all really. “I’m fine without you” revealed underneath the portrait of poor Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Joel has barely survived a tragically unhealthy relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet) and he feels he can’t live with the pain. So instead of facing his fear of the future (“will I ever be loved/happy/content again?”) he takes matters into his own desperate hands and hires a doctor (Tom Wilkinson) who claims he can erase Joel’s painful memories of lost love.
It’s a tempting little scenario. How many times have we felt Joel’s pain? It’s part of the human comedy. At some point, we will all experience loss and betrayal and disappointment. What we do with those feelings… that’s the real test.
Joel’s big misstep is probably two-fold:
- We are led to believe that he didn’t have a very good network of friends and family. He seems to be a loner without a safety net to fall back on. In the kind of soul-searching times he found himself, Joel really needed that sort of grounded fail-safe to bring him up out of despair.
- He made rash decisions in the mire of emotion. That’s the absolute worst time. I doubt highly that suicide is a rational decision.
And yet, despite the best intentions, how many times do we fall victim to Joel’s familiar depression? The brilliance of director Michel Gondry’s (and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s) film is the employment of hyperbole. How often have we said these words: “If I could only turn back time and do that differently…” or “If only that had never happened…”
Gondry’s film takes those simple regretful yearnings and paints them into absurdist reality.
I’d be a liar if I said that I was never tempted to erase seasons from my own past. I suppose we wouldn’t be human if we never experienced loss and dealt with regret.