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Monday, August 29, 2011

Great Last Scenes: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Year: 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Great Because...: Not only does it bring everything around full circle, but it perfectly encapsulates the old adage that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Joel and Clementine know that they'll end in disaster but are willing to accept the pain that will come at the end in order to experience the happiness that comes at the beginning.

The question at the centre of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is whether you would erase someone from your memory if you could. When Joel finds out that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine, has chosen to do just that, he decides to follow suit in order to get even with her. As he's undergoing the procedure, however, he begins to have second thoughts. Memories come back to him for the last time before disappearing forever - memories of bad moments, but also good memories, memories of love and happiness - and he suddenly feels desperate to hold on to them. He tries to outrun the procedure but everything is disappearing around him, events from his past are dismantled, the lights go out on his memories - once the ball gets rolling, it's impossible to stop.

But, the thing is, even though Joel and Clementine's memories of each other have been completely wiped out, they're still drawn to each other. They re-encounter each other on a train and shortly thereafter discover why, despite their very different personalities, they felt an instant connection when they receive the records informing them of the procedures they underwent to erase their past relationship. After learning the truth Joel wants to give it another chance, but Clementine isn't so sure. "I can't see anything that I don't like about you," Joel insists. "But you will," Clementine replies. "You will think of things. And I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that's what happens with me." Joel shrugs and says, "Okay" and, after a moment, Clementine agrees.

The ending of Eternal Sunshine... is bittersweet because we, and they, know that things won't end happily, but it's uplifting because it tacitly declares that happiness has a greater weight than sadness. Joel and Clementine are willing to accept the pain that may come at the end because it means that they'll get to experience all the happiness that comes first. It's a beautiful ending entirely devoid of cynicism, a perfect ending to a great film.

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