My ultimate New Years movie
Technically, January 1st is just another day. Time is a human concept. Our society happens to base time based on earth’s rotations and its revolutions around the sun. Based on that, the new year is a arbitrary meaning attached to a physical fact, emotion hitched to a planet rotating around the sun.
Humans greet the new year with festive feelings of cheer and hope. The idea that a new year actually brings rebirth is arbitrary, yes, but so is any celebration. We celebrate because we can, and really, we must. And a new year is as good a reason to celebrate as any. At the beginning of a new year, it’s tempting to look back at the previous one and see only how it could have been improved upon. We reach the end of December feeling weary and eager to begin anew.
And yet, we don’t regard all memories of the past this way. If fresh memories tend to lean towards the negative, then positive nostalgia inevitably sets in just a little later down the chronological road.
One of the beauties of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is its treatment of the idea of fresh starts and how we deal with sad memories.
The whole premise of the film, of course, is built around the concept of eliminating bad memories entirely. The protagonist, Joel Barish, is understandably devastated both by his breakup with his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski and the fact that she had him wiped from her memory. Retaliating by destroying all memories of her seems, at the time, like a good idea.
Every time I watch “Eternal Sunshine,” I feel a bit more familiar with Joel’s mindset. At the beginning of his memories, as we watch them get wiped from his mind in real time, Clementine is almost unbearably volatile. This, of course, is Joel’s perspective. I imagine these same scenes played out differently in Clementine’s head when she had Joel wiped from her memories. But as he traverses back, he begins to remember the good things. The happy moments, when everything felt right. Naturally, he doesn’t feel so good about having these memories erased.
Kaufmann and Gondry, of course, view this as the perfect setup for a chase movie. That’s just how they are, and it’s why we love them.
Additionally, this narrative alone isn’t enough for a Kaufmann script. His parallel storyline, of Joel and Clementine meeting again, post memory-wipe, seems at first like a stretch and contrivance. Instead, he gently reveals just how this whole story is plausible and, more importantly, he makes it significant. He makes it beautiful. Some might see the ending of this movie as romantic folly. I see it as a testament to true new beginnings, when people discard the concept of negative pasts altogether and embrace possibility and their own ability to change. Like any new year, they don’t know how things are going to work. They embrace the possibility of something happy and new, looking forward, not backward.