This is one of the movies where Jim Carrey, my personal favourite actor, had shown the world how he can do any kind of role. This is one of those rare movies where Jim Carrey has played a serious role. This man can act, he simply prefers rubber-faced roles because he’s the god of that territory. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey’s shown the world that doing a shy, soft-spoken, regular guy’s role is no great shakes at all. Enough of the one-sided praises. Kate Winslet has a very interesting role in this one, the kind of character you will love and hate at the same time. Kirsten Dunst (a.k.a Mary Jane) is much less annoying here than she was in the Spiderman series. Elijah Wood (a.k.a Frodo) plays a little brat carrying a heavy secret … sounds familiar? Mr.Hulk, Mark Ruffalo, is one of the supporting characters in the film, he looks … young. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explained; spoilers ahead.
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Setting The Context
The film is about Joel (Jim) and Clem (Kate) who first meet at a beach and fall in love. They grow to fight and hate each other. Kate takes the first plunge to use the help of an organization called Lacuna who specialize in erasing specific memories connected to a person. The general procedure happens over night and the subject wakes up with a specific set of memories missing. The subject completely forgets the target person and all memories connected to the target person. In Clem’s case, the target is Joel and she acts “impulsively” to get her memories of Joel erased. Joel, in retaliation, goes in for the same option. He decides to get the procedure done on himself, remove Clem and her memories from his brain.
I can’t explain out the film in fully chronological fashion, the deletion of memory happens backwards. I will, however, mark numbers to indicate the order of the events from the memories.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Clementine’s hair colour
I believe one of the ways that helps follow what the heck is going on in the film is to follow the colour of Clem’s hair. I am going to try and write this article using colors that match the color of her hair. I’m not joking, stop sniveling about having trouble reading. I will choose good contrast. Much of the film is shown through Joel’s memories and since he’s aware that his memory is being deleted, he relives them differently.
- Clem’s hair is first Green, when she meets Joel first.
- Clem then dies it Orange when she’s dating Joel.
- Clem then dies it Blue when she’s deleted her memories of Joel after her break up.
The Memory Deletion Process
A subject who wishes to have their memories of a target person erased, collect all items connected to the target. Lacuna Inc uses these items to create a map of the memories and use that map to do the deletion process. Once the memory map is created, the subject is told to go home, leave the door unlocked, pop a particular sleeping pill and get to bed and sleep. After this, the memory wiping crew enters the house, connects the sleeping/unconscious subject to their machine and begin the deleting process. Once completed, they leave. The subject wakes up and has the target’s memories removed from their brains. It’s like the subject never met the target.
Why do people opt for the Memory Deletion process?
Well some people can’t handle relationships too well. When things go sour, they are unable to simply break up and move on. The memories of their lover haunts them and stops them from going forward with their lives. In such cases, some people prefer to simply delete all memories connected to their ex-lover and move on like nothing happened. One such person is Clem, she decides to delete Joel’s memories after their relationship turns sour. At this point Clem has blue hair – meaning after her break up with Joel the first time and having her memories erased. Joel too does the same. Patrick (Elijah) uses Kate’s memory info and starts a relationship with her. Clem is in a state of restlessness because Patrick is saying and doing all things that Joel once said and did. Even though Kate doesn’t have Joel’s memory anymore, there still seem to be some residual/subliminal ones that is making her go crazy. So that guy Clem is kissing in the supermarket is Patrick while Joel is standing for billing.
How does Joel find out about Clem’s memory erase?
Joel ends up reading a note about Clem’s memory being erased. He is not supposed to, the note was intended for his friends. Then his friends explain to him that Clem got the process done and that’s why she doesn’t recognize Joel anymore.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Plot Explained
Joel’s Memories of Clem
(These are in reverse order, as shown in the film. The numbers indicate the order in which the events happened)
Clem’s Hair is Orange when Joel first meets her. Clem’s hair is Blue after her deletion.
Hence, text that is Orange are past memories. Blue are current events. Green is the very first memory
12) The memory deletion process starts. Joel is sleeping. Patrick and Stan get to work. The recent most memories are first deleted starting with the trip to the hospital itself. Joel relives each memory as they are deleted.
11) In his memory, Joel can hear Patrick talking to Stan. Patrick confesses to Stan how he fell in love with Clem. Patrick asks Clem out soon after he erases her memory. Stan explains how wrong that is. Joel is unaware that he is in a memory and is still trying to make sense of the voices of Patrick and Stan in his head.
10) In a memory with Clem at home, Joel acts dead. Clem walks past talking as though nothing is wrong. Joel slowly realizes that these are memories and he’s called for deletion.
9) The memories with Clem are those that have already gone bad. These deletions don’t upset him. Mary (Kirsten) joins Patrick and Stan, Mary is shown to be seeing Stan. Patrick calls Clem (with blue hair) and she’s freaking out. Patrick refers to her as tangerine leaves to meet her. Joel hears this. Joel calls Clem Tangerine because of her orange hair. Joel figures out that Patrick is making moves on Clem using all of Joel’s information.
Patrick is shown to be using Joel’s notes on Clem and is shown buying her gifts that she likes. Patrick meets Clem and gifts her.
8) Joel has now moved to memories that are good. The memories where he was in love with Clem. He doesn’t want the deletion anymore. He tries to shout but all that is in his head. He’s sleeping and the deletion process continues.
7) Joel’s memory with Clem on ice. Joel is struggling to call it off. Joel ties to preserve the memory by running away. He tries to run from memory to memory to hide Clem. Joel knows Patrick is stealing his identity.
In the real world Patrick is redoing the ice bit with Clem.
6) The memories get better. Joel is in a memory with Clem in the woods. He now starts to talk to Clem in the memories. How is he doing this? Well it’s his memory so he can choose to relive it differently. All of the memories that happen are alternate versions of what happened in reality as Joel is trying to change them. He tries to lie down and wake up. Joel’s eyes open but is unable to wake up fully. Deletion continues.
5) Joel gets a suggestion from Clem in one of his memories – to take her and hide her in a memory that she doesn’t belong to. (This is actually Joel telling himself that idea, Clem is only Joel’s memory here). So they go back to a childhood memory to hide Clem. Joel is 4 years old. A lovely shot this one. No special effects. He’s in the memory of him being a kid, so he starts behaving like one.
Stan and Mary are drinking and making merry and realize that the deletion program has stopped. Stan freaks out and calls Howard, the big boss. Stan and Mary clean up. Howard joins and starts working.
Howard locates baby Joel and his memory where Clem is and deletes it. Joel’s eyes open again. Howard sees this and gives him a stronger dose to sleep.
4) Joel runs with Clem in his memories again. This time he picks a deeper memory. One of humiliation. Joel picks a memory of him being bullied. This is a memory where Joel has been bullied by a boy called Freddy. While Joel tries to confront Freddy, he still gets beaten because he can only remember it that way. According to Joel, Freddy is still stronger in the memory. Howard finds this and deletes the memory.
3) More memories are erased and Joel can’t do anything to stop it. At the beach Joel tries to escape with Clem, but fails.
During the deletion, Mary is shown to be hitting on Howard. We’ll get to that in a bit.
2) Joel is in the memory where he meets Clem at the library. This memory is the last one where they are in a relationship of any kind. This is the first time Joel asks Clem out. The memory is deleted.
1) This is the first memory of Clem for Joel. Clem has green hair. He meets Clem, they get talking and they like each other. They hang out and at night they break into a random house and treat themselves to the alcohol in the house. Joel is not comfortable with the general idea of breaking and entering. This is the very first memory he has with Clem. This day is the first ever that they meet. Joel (in actual life) happens to run away leaving Clem alone in the house. He thinks her to be psycho and leaves her behind and makes a run for it. So in the memory Joel begins to run. Clem stops him. Says don’t go. She asks him to meet her in Montauk.
The erasing process is finished. They remove their equipment and leave Joel to sleep.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Ending Explained
What is the importance of Montauk?
Montauk seems to be a place of importance for both Joel and Clem. It’s perhaps where they first met and/or where they often went. This part is not mentioned in the movie. But is not very hard to guess. The next day after his erasing, Joel wakes up and has an inexplicable itch to go to Montauk. So he calls in sick and boards a train to Montauk. This is how the movie begins. Joel now meets Clem, with the blue hair. Clem is in a relationship with Patrick. Joel and Clem are drawn to each other and end up hanging out the day. Joel and Clem lie on the ice again. Though this is the 3rd time this ice sequence is happening, this one is shown first in the movie. As Joel is dropping Clem back, she asks if she could come over Joel’s and sleep over. Joel invites her. Patrick who happens to be there for Clem sees Joel and is confused what Joel’s doing in front of Clem’s house. They just erased Joel’s memories the previous day and yet he’s in Clem’s place waiting for her, Patrick is obviously confused. Little does Patrick know that the residual memory of “Montauk” has led to Clem and Joel meeting and falling in love all over again.
What was the deal with Mary and Howard?
During the deletion, Mary is shown to be hitting on Howard. Howard’s wife shows up in suspicion and catches Howard and Mary kissing. Well, here’s the deal. Mary has already fallen in love with Howard earlier. The two of them have been caught earlier. While Howard may not have fallen in love with Mary and treated it to be a booty call. Mary couldn’t get over Howard and opted for the memory deletion procedure. This procedure may erase specific memories of a person but seems to be unable to delete how you feel about that person. Just like Mary is simply drawn again to Howard, Clem and Joel are drawn towards each other too. Howard’s wife is not randomly paranoid and comes in to check on her husband. She gets to know her husband is working late night with the possible involvement of Mary. So she comes to check and she has confirmation about this. That’s why Howard’s wife says “You can have him, you already did”. She realizes that no matter how many memories you delete, if two people are drawn to each other, there is little that can be done to stop that.
Did Stan know of Mary’s memory deletion? Was he taking advantage of Mary?
No, Stan is not taking advantage of Mary like Patrick is doing to Clem. Stan honestly doesn’t know that Mary has had her memory erased. Stan notices that there seems to be a spark between Mary and Howard but one fine day it’s not there anymore. So Stan brushes this off as something his mind was making up. Stan later starts dating Mary. Mary is upset and leaves anyway.
What does Mary do after she finds out about her memory deletion?
Prior to the deletion, the subjects make a recording of their reason for deletion. They record why they want the deletion and why they need their memories to be erased. Mary takes all the tapes of all the subjects and mails it to them. Ya, I think that would have cost her her job, but didn’t look like she cared. These tapes land with Clem and Joel too.
Joel’s in Clem’s place waiting for her, she comes back with an envelope containing her tape. She has no clue what it is and she pays it in Joel’s car. The tape talks about how Clem hates Joel and all the nasty things about him. Joel thinks he’s being played, gets angry and stops the car and asks Clem to get out. She does. When Joel goes back home, he finds his envelope and his tape waiting for him. So he starts listening to it at his place. Joel also finds a picture of Clem that was missed out for the “cleansing”. Clem, in the meanwhile, figures out about this memory erase process and goes over to Joel’s place. He lets her in as he too understands that his memory has been deleted. Clem hears all the horrible things Joel is saying about her on the tape. She decides to leave. Joel stops her because he likes her. Clem explains that if they start a relationship (again) they are simply going to head down the same path of hatred and get stuck in a crappy relationship. After all, they are the same people and would react the same way in the relationship the second time too. Joel says – “Okay”. What he means is that he is okay to go down that path, he is okay to take that chance. What he currently feels is love for Clem and he is okay to give their relationship a chance even if it means it will go sour. Clem feels the same way too. They both agree and the movie ends. Poor Frodo, he doesn’t get a ring.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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