This is one of those movies where you watch and then you don’t know whether you feel sad or happy about it by the end. It’s very complicated emotionally. You really get to know the characters, and by the time the end comes around, you really feel for them as well. Though what I felt specifically is sort of a mystery. I will tell you, I feel the movie is great. It has cool sci-fi concepts, a bit of surrealism, great performances, and as I mentioned, very complex emotions.
Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslett) have just met, seemingly by chance. They have an instant connection and seem to really like each other, even though they’re very different. They do all sorts of rom-com-ey things: slide around on the ice, look at constellations, talk to each other on the bus… but it doesn’t feel cheesy. And then the inexplicable happens. Joel starts driving away from Clementine’s house, angry, and in tears. Clearly they broke up, but how did it happen? I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit confused by the set up here. The time line gets really mixed up, but by the end it all becomes clear.
We find out that Clementine had Joel erased from her mind. They had been going out for awhile, she wanted to end it, so she went to this company called Lacuna that does this for people. They do this by studying the relationship in question, making a “map” of the memories the patient has of it in their mind, and then erasing them over the course of one night, while the patient is sleeping. Once Joel realizes that Clementine had this done, he realizes he wants it to get it done on him, too. It really doesn’t work if only one person in the relationship forgets the other; the one who doesn’t forget is sad and hurt that the other person would do this to them. So Joel goes to Lacuna, and we see the erasing process in progress, and the consequences of it after he wakes up.
I remember watching Inception for the first time and thinking it was a totally original concept. Journeying into someone’s mind and seeing it change, and reality being represented in a symbolic manner that the characters can understand. I was wrong, it’s definitely been done before, as I’ve learned over this past month. First I was proven wrong by The Matrix, in which the characters have to manipulate the computer program that they are plugged into, and second, I was proven wrong by this film. As Joel relives all of his memories of Clementine, we see the places and the different versions of Clementine that he remembers destroyed. Halfway through, he decides he wants to remember Clementine after all, so he tries to hide her in places where the Lacuna technicians don’t know where to look.
As we journey back through Clementine and Joel’s relationship, we see how it went wrong. They’re really different from each other; Joel is very shy and quiet, and Clementine is very aggressive and loud. They don’t see life the same way. At first it’s exciting for them, but after awhile they don’t see the same things about each other. In Clementine’s eyes, Joel is no longer cute but boring, and to Joel, Clementine is basically a crazy person that leaves him behind a lot. We see all the good times too though, and we feel for these two. They made a good couple when they weren’t resenting each other so much. The memories run backwards, which also serves to emphasize this. When the erasing starts, we see why he wants to forget her. Towards the end though, it gets more and more tragic.
This is the ingenious part (or more accurately, the most ingenious part, because most of it is pretty ingenious) about the film: as Joel works harder and harder to hide Clementine where the technicians can’t find her, he goes to his memories that she doesn’t know about. By doing this, he opens himself up more to her and learns more about why their relationship failed. Of course, the Clementine he is hiding is just his impression of her, so the real Clementine does not know all of these things that Joel is showing her, but it’s beneficial nevertheless. He is able to show Clementine all of these things about himself that he never did before; so now he feels more comfortable with them and with possibly sharing them with Clementine (or really anyone) in the future.
This is a very multi-layered story, and I haven’t even talked about one of the more important layers yet. Though most of the film is concerned with Joel and Clementine, the Lacuna technicians get their own stories as well. This is where the ethics of erasing a person from someone else’s memory come in. First of all, if a company is going to do this they should get more professional people than Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo). Patrick fell in love with Clementine himself when they were erasing Joel from her mind, and now he’s using all of his knowledge of their relationship to advance his own. Patrick leaves in the middle of the night to go be with Clementine, and Stan invites his girlfriend Mary (Kirsten Dunst) over, who is also the receptionist at the office. They basically party the whole time and don’t pay attention to what is going on with Joel’s brain. Something serious could have happened here. Though the main doctor, Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) seems more professional than the rest of them, we find out that he has mixed business with pleasure as well, and it doesn’t turn out good for everybody.
There is a lot going on with this film. A final thing I have to mention is that it says a lot about learning from one’s mistakes. If you erase your memory of the mistakes you made, this film guarantees you will make them again. Taking the easy way out and having your mind erased every time something bad happens to you is just going to turn into an endless cycle of pain from which you can never escape. Lacuna advertises that having a person erased is a way to move on, but really that is not the case. If you ever meet them again, the same thing will happen. That’s the message that most stuck out to me when I was watching this film. There are a lot though, and plenty of emotional moments for all the characters involved.
“It would be different, if we could just give it another go-round.”
“Remember me. Try your best; maybe we can.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars