The memory-erasing company in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lacuna Inc., takes its name from the Latin word meaning a cavity, hollow, or dip, especially a pool or pond. Transfiguratively, lacuna comes to mean a gap, deficiency, or loss. The term “lacunar infarct” refers to a stroke that involves a small area of the brain responsible for a specific function, or ever a specific memory. 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo

Directed by Michel Gondry

After a fight with her boyfriend Joel Barish (Carrey), Clementine Krucynski pays Lacuna, inc to erase him from her memories. After finding out about this, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure to lighten the weight of their breakup. However, as we travel through Joel’s brain and recount his happiest memories with Clem, Joel changes his mind and tries to find ways to never forget her. Meanwhile, the employees at Lacuna are dealing with drama of their own. Mary (Dunst), the receptionist, finds out that she was once in a scandalous relationship and underwent the procedure. Patrick, one of the technicians, stole details from Joel’s journals and tries to seduce Clem himself.

Joel and Clementine are complementary characters. He lives a tiresome and boring life. He’s alone on valentines day and resents himself for it. Joel’s very cautious, so he needs somebody to push him out of his comfort zone. Clem is, quite literally, the added color to his life. In the opening sequence, Joel draws a picture of Clementine in bright colors while the rest of the world is black and white. She makes him do things he wouldn’t have the guts to do alone such as playing on the frozen river or checking out the abandoned house. While they are set up as the perfect fit for each other, it is also implied that this is all superficial. Clementine says from the get go that she doesn’t want to be the girl to complete him because she’s “just a fucked up girl who’s looking for [her] own peace of mind.” Joel’s fantasy that Clementine’s supposed to be the one to show him the world is an unfair burden on her when she has needs of her own. Clementine is an insecure mess. She pours liquor in her coffee, drives drunk, changes her hair color frequently (reflecting her weak sense of identity), and is convinced that she’s ugly. Clementine is high maintenance, and Joel isn’t vocal enough to give her the validation she needs. Perhaps this upfront projection of Clementine as the “perfect girl” is a way of demonstrating how wrapped up in Joel’s brain we really are.

The characters who underwent the procedure have illogical compulsions driven by their erased memories. For instance, Joel feels a strong and sudden urge to travel to the beaches of Montauk, where he first met Clem, in the middle of February. Clementine also grows hysterical at her strange, urgent desire to see the frozen Charles River, a place of sentimental significance for herself and Joel. So, while one could argue that Clementine and Joel (as well as Mary and Mierzwiak) are brought back together because their personalities naturally attract, I believe Gondry (dir) is making a larger statement supported by these irrational drives; the characters reunite because of destiny. It is universal intervention, not complementary dispositions, that triumph the superficial memory wipe and pull Joel and Clem together.

The film makes an interesting statement about the nature of memories. The employees of Lacuna, inc are very invasive. Aside from literally ripping some of Joel’s happiest memories from him, they’re going through his kitchen, drinking his booze, having sex in his apartment, and, in Patrick’s case, stealing his life. These little moments speak to how irredeemably intrusive the procedure is. The character all appear to, at least initially, believe ignorance is bliss. Mary shares quotes like “blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders” and “how happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!” People think it’s better to forget unpleasant memories, satirized by the memory erasing industry. While Joel initially agrees with this viewpoint, he soon learns that while ignorance may be more comfortable, his memories, good and bad, make up who he is. Without them, he is even more boring and pathetic than before. Mary has a similar epiphany, which is why she sends out all of the former patients’ files.

I had heard so many great things about this movie before finally sitting down and watching it. It was recommended to me by a friend whose opinions on film I hold in very high esteem, so I had high hopes. While Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn’t the spectacular, psychological love story I was expecting (it was a little cheesy), I wasn’t let down. Gondry does an excellent job of demonstrating Joel’s cerebral confusion during his procedure. Since the film is generally pretty light but deep, I would recommend it to just about anybody.