29 July 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd ...

Alexander Pope, 'Eloisa to Aberlard'


Wouldn't it be great if we could erase the memories of our loved one once the relationship has gone stale? Wouldn't it also be great if we could choose to start our life anew without any remembrance of bad times? These questions form a central premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Even though the film was launched a while back, we just saw the film last night and I'm sitting in front of my computer today writing something about it. This shows how my timeframe is different from others: while others expressed their opinions about this film years ago, I just happen to show my part today. Am I a dinosaur or what? Or does it mean that I simply can't keep pace with the fast rhythm of the world nowadays? Are we laden by good films we need to see, good books we need to read, good music we need to listen to? Are we too spoiled by choices? This leaves me no choice, paradoxically. Being a ravenous pseudo-intellectual who wants to devour every good thing around, I simply have to consume all this stuff, but at a far slower rate than those around me. And the result? This weblog where I register my own personal thoughts, for fear that without it I wouldn't have any evidence left that once I consumed this and that ... But do I feel nostalgic towards the old days where good things come few and far in between and when you have all the time in the world to enjoy them slowly? Of course, but the world has changed and you can choose to be either A) a pseudo-intellectual who wishes to know everything but at a cost -- you only know shallowly; or B) a real intellectual who perhaps doesn't know that Rain is a singer, not water dropping from the sky or doesn't know how to use Window Vista or what Ipod is, but knows something deeply and passionately.

Why do I complain about this? It's about memory of course, and how we modern people seem to disregard its importance. With the aid of technological advances, we simply don't exercise our memories well enough. I remember the old days when scholars can recite poems after poems, whereas nowadays students can barely remember anything. I happen to be the latter and regret not being able to be like the former. This is why the experience of watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is like a slap on my cheek. Under the modern condition, we all seem to have a spotless mind, not being able to remember much of great experience. We rather depend on something like our video clips and weblogs like this to trigger our memory.


Well, let's talk about the film. Based on a script by Charlie Kaufman (who previously penned Being John Malkovich), the film is an odd yet sentimental surreal attempt to look at our contemporary life from an (as yet) impossible premise: what if we can erase part of our memory. This what-if is beautifully rendered through the relationship between Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski. When Clementine decides to have her memory of their relationship erased, Joel goes wild and decides to do the same. However, for some reason, they are destined to meet again and fall in love once again. The film does question whether the total loss of memory is actually valid. The complication is that when we lose part of our memory, we also do not become what we have become. That is, if we can choose to have our bad experience erased, we simply don't learn from that experience, and hence we are not able to become wiser. That's why we tend to commit the same 'mistakes', or fall in love with the 'wrong' person, once again, the important part being what we deem as 'erronous' or 'wrong' do depend on our memory and comparison between the past memory and the present state.

In this line of thought, the film does carry a moral twist: we simply can't escape from our fate, because the loss of memory also entails the loss of lessons learnt, and the regression to the state before the loss. However, the film chooses to portray this in a positive dimension, since love does make wonders and nature does jump, so we tend to see a lot of mysterious happenings around us. So we should embrace these bitter memories as life has both ups and downs, and these bitter memories make us who we are, even though sometimes people find them hard to chew.

If memory makes us what we are and shape what we will become, I simply don't see the future of our race, when we depend less on memory. What will we become? If our head is empty, what can we be? Will we find life significant enough if we don't remember? I remembered watching The Simpsons, and in one episode Bart says he can't remember what happened a few minutes ago 'thanks to' TV. Well, maybe it's a blessing that nowadays we don't need Lacuna Inc. to do their work, as TV in our living room will do their job for us. Everyone of us!

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