Eternal Sunshine plot interpretation (*MAJOR SPOILERS*)

So, for those who have seen the movie, I have a question:

There are lots of scenes where Joel is in his memories, but consciously aware of the fact that someone is erasing his memory. In many of those scenes, he’s talking to Clementine, who is also aware that Joel’s memories are being erased. My assumption throughout the first 85% of the movie was that this all took place in Joel’s imagination, as it were; in other words, that although Clementine is talking to him and making suggestions (“Hide me in an embarassing memory,” etc.), it’s actually Joel sort of talking to himself. But at the end of the movie, the Joel’s-imagination Clementine says “Meet me at Montauk” just as she’s getting erased. Joel ends up not remembering that, but he goes to Montauk anyway, presumably because even when your memory is erased, there are sort of subconscious traces left behind (same reason that Clementine freaks out when Patrick mimicks her experiences with Joel). So now Joel has a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion to go to Montauk. All well and good.

Why does Clementine show up at Montauk? If Joel is just sort of talking to himself when he comes up with the Montauk plan, Clementine (the real Clementine) wouldn’t know about it at all. Which leaves, as I see it, three possibilities:

  1. Coincidence. Clementine likes going to Montauk and just happened to be there the day Joel went. This seems incredibly lame, especially since it’s never established that she particularly likes Montauk (she was only there during their “real” first meeting because of the party).

  2. Clementine’s own compulsion. Maybe she had a self-conversation like Joel did during the erasure process; maybe there’s just subconscious traces of the relationship left behind, exacerbated by the way Patrick keeps replaying scenes from it during Clementine’s “new” life. Whatever. Either way, Clementine is subconsciously seeking to re-meet Joel, so she goes to Montauk because that’s where they met the first time. In other words, she independently arrives at the same (subconscious) idea Joel does. It’s just coincidence that they both end up going on the same day. Or maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day pushes them over the edge. Or maybe she’s gone on several days that we just didn’t see.

  3. Psychic contact! This is the one I’m curious about. My girlfriend watched the movie with me and her interpretation of the plot was that during the Joel’s Erased Memory sequences, Clementine was actually talking to Joel through some sort of like subconscious psychic connection (which even Clementine is unaware of during her conscious life; maybe she has those conversations during her dreams that night or something, which is why she freaks out and calls Patrick in the middle of the night?). Thus, although the conscious/waking Clementine has no memory of Joel or their Joel’s Erased Memory conversations, Clementine’s “soul” or “subconscious” was there and does remember, and compels her to go to Montauk to meet Joel–just as Joel’s subconscious compels him to go there.

Discuss!

I don’t know about psychic contact, but I like fate, which really doesn’t seem that much different from what you’re describing in #3.

I don’t know about the details of Clem actually talking to Joel, but it’s satisfying for me to think it’s their destiny to be together. So through some combination of 1, 2, and 3, they do meet up on the beach in Montauk.

did anyone notice how she got about 5 times hotter in the “Joel age 5 under the kitchen table” scene? loved that outfit.

I know I did.

Also: Tim is correct. The answer is fate.

Her: Look! My crotch is still here.

Him: Yuck!

Absolutely right about the kitchen scene…

I believe it was 2 as well. My favorite line had to be the wife of the doctor though.

You haven’t told her? Don’t be a beast. The two of you have a history!

2
I think it’s definitely answer number 2.

I loved how he started dragging her into his imagination and older memories. Remember, the main flaw in their relationship seemed to be that we wouldn’t be intimate with her. By taking his memory of her into those memories and sharing how, as a child, all he wanted was to be held. “More than anything I’ve ever wanted”. And how safe he felt in the kitchen sink bath. Then into the memory of smashing the dead bird while being mocked by bullies, and being caught masterbating… one thinks that maybe Joel will be able to actually share himself with her during their second try at a relationship. That really spoke to me. It made the ending feel hopeful.

Wow, nice work Andrew. I really like this interpration and it hadn’t occured to me. Well done! Can’t wait to share it with my wife.

Good interpretation.

My wife came up with a very similar idea. She asserted that his humiliating memories had been completely erased during the procedure. As he hid in the bad memories, the doctor kept finding him and targeting the erasure at those memories. This unintended memory erasue leads to a subtle personality change. Joel’s most humiliating memories and the associated lingering guilt and self consciousness were gone, so his next run through with Clementine would be more open.

I interpreted it as a combination of 2 and 3, partly because I think the line between those things is blurry anyway, and partly because of a few personal experiences with an ex-girlfriend that, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them “psychic,” were definitely more than coinicidental or mutually compulsive.

Cool! This is supported by the scene at the beach (when they really first met) and he sang “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine” when he learned her name. Then (at the beginning of the film when they meet the second time) he tells her he’s never heard of that song.

Cool! This is supported by the scene at the beach (when they really first met) and he sang “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine” when he learned her name. Then (at the beginning of the film when they meet the second time) he tells her he’s never heard of that song.[/quote]

More nice work you two. I like these very much.

Cool! This is supported by the scene at the beach (when they really first met) and he sang “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine” when he learned her name. Then (at the beginning of the film when they meet the second time) he tells her he’s never heard of that song.[/quote]

I must protest, although I think Kraaze’s is an interesting take. The song would be erased because he had sung it to her when they first met… it had become a Clementine-related memory and was therefore marked for deletion.

extarbag, he says he never heard the song before at their second meeting, but we know that’s not true becasue we heard his mom sing it to him.

and everything about his flashbacks is factually accurate. all of it.

Cool! This is supported by the scene at the beach (when they really first met) and he sang “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine” when he learned her name. Then (at the beginning of the film when they meet the second time) he tells her he’s never heard of that song.[/quote]

I must protest, although I think Kraaze’s is an interesting take. The song would be erased because he had sung it to her when they first met… it had become a Clementine-related memory and was therefore marked for deletion.[/quote]

2 things.

  1. I can’t take credit, it was my wife’s insight that I was relating. She doesn’t read these boards, but better safe than sorry . . .

  2. The exact nature and scope of effect of the memory erasure was one of the things I was pondering after seeing the movie. While my wife was coming up with insightful interpretations I was being geeky and wondering just how the memory erasure worked. The doctor in the movie equates the memory loss from the procedure to “a night of drinking”. If I get drunk and sing a childrens song to someone, I might forget I sang them the song but I would still know the song.

Presumably Joel heard that song multiple times as a child. This leads to two possiblities as I see things. One, the procedure erased a large chunk of his childhood. Two, Joel was lying about not knowing the song. The second possiblity is the intriguing one in my mind. It alludes to Joel having changed (for the better) since first meeting Clementine.

I loved another aspect of the story as well. The sense that when things go bad we forget all the good reasons for why we are together in the first place. The commonality that led to the relationship that gets lost in the anger later. I thought the rolling back thru his memories did a great job of making you feel they were in danger of losing something special even though the end was pretty ugly.

That, I think, is not the truth.