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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

True love needs to be fought for

by April 28 2014


Central Idea

Love will be given a chance through fate but will only lead to a happy relationship with trust and willing acceptance of each other’s faults.


Joel and Clementine are at the pained end of their relationship. After a fight, Joel finds out that Clementine has had all her memory of their relationship erased. He reacts by pursuing the same operation. As his memory of their relationship is erased from the present moment backwards, he reaches some sweet memories of happiness he would rather hold onto. Joel turns around and actively seeks to stop the process to save his memory. He takes the Clementine in his memory and they hide in his memories of early childhood to avoid being detected and erased. As they avoid detection together Joel rediscovers the joy of Clementine’s companionship and the root of their love. Their escape fails and the operation is completed successfully. Joel wakes up with an unknown urge to go to where he had first met Clementine. There, he runs into a similarly searching Clementine and they unknowingly fall in love a second time. Upon returning home they discover audiotapes from their operations, revealing their own taped bitter feelings about each other at the end of their last relationship. Together they choose to try again with greater acceptance of each other knowing full well the pain and compromise that will come with their love.


JOEL I don’t see anything I don’t like about you.
CLEMENTINE But you will! But you will, and I will get bored with you and feel trapped, because that’s what happens with me.
JOEL Okay.
JOEL Okay. [END]

ETERNAL SUNSHINE’s narrative is essentially a love story told backwards. It deals with the traditional problem of reverse narrative in a new way. The traditional problem is that if the audience already knows the ending (bitter breakup), then telling the story in reverse asks the audience the question of “is it worth it?” as we watch the story back to the beginning (falling in love). This intellectualizes the experience rather than giving us dramatic action. ETERNAL SUNSHINE deals with this problem of intellectualization by giving the protagonist an active role in the reverse narrative. Joel is able to interact with his old memories to try to stop the process of erasing; this attempt to escape is the major sub-plot of the film. The catharsis of the audience comes with his rediscovery of his love for Clementine as they try to escape together. They fail to escape at the climax of this sub-plot and his memory is erased. But the lovers meet again by fate and once again fall in love. This fake climax of the main love-story plot is placed at the beginning of the film and again at the end of the film – the audience realizes the despite losing all their memory, the lovers meet and fall in love again. If the film ended there, it would have been a good film, and the central idea would have been “Love happens because of fate”. But the problem would have been that Joel went through this huge journey of discovery and change but that all seems to go to waste if fate was just going to put them together again – he needs to be the one making an active choice that demonstrates his internal change at climax. The real climax of ETERNAL SUNSHINE comes out of the reversal at the end, in which the Joel and Clementine discover their bitter past and must choose whether or not to commit despite their past. This resurfaces Joel’s inner journey. He and she choose to commit, completing Joel’s journey of internal change with an external action. The central idea now becomes “Love happens because of fate but it will only result in a happy relationship with open acceptance of each other and the painful compromises that come with love”. This real climax fueled by true character change, dilemma and choice is what makes the film great. The climax completes the audience catharsis experienced through Joel’s rediscovery of love; as a result he wins the girl and we are touched by a great story.

JOEL Okay.
JOEL Okay. [END]

Plot Structure

MAIN JOEL-CLEMENTINE Central Idea: Love will be given a chance through fate but will only succeed with willing acceptance of each other’s faults. Will they find lasting love together? ARC: Joel and Clementine fall in love by fate twice. Then choose to love each other on the third time by accepting that they will have pain along with the love.
SUB ESCAPE OPERATION JOEL-HOWARD Central Idea: Love as fate that can’t be erased. Will the operation erase Joel’s memory? ARC: Joel engages Howard (Lacuna Inc.) to erase his memory, he changes his mind half way through, tries to stop the procedure but fails.
SUB CLEMENTINE-PATRICK Central Idea: Love as fate can’t be faked. Will Patrick win Clementine with love’s words and actions? ARC: Patrick falls in love with Clementine and uses Joel’s memory and artifacts to try to win Clementine over. He fails.
SUB STAN-MARY Central Idea: Love can’t be forced. Love needs to be built on trust. Will Stan win Mary’s love? ARC: Stan falls in love and tries to win Mary over but fails when Mary falls in love with Howard a second time after her memory was erased.
SUB MARY-HOWARD Central Idea: Love as fate can’t be denied. Echoes Main Plot. Will Mary and Howard find love together? ARC: Mary erased her memory because her love with the married Howard can’t possibly last. But she falls in love with him again. because Howard was too weak to put on distance with the new Mary. Upon discovering Howard’s deception she destroys Lacuna Inc.

Character Design

Story Chart

Desire: to have child-like blissful happiness again
Secret Desire: to be understood
Fear: to be betrayed
Traits: introverted, sensitive, analytical, well-read, judgmental

Desire: to have fun
Secret Desire: to have someone who loves her for who she is
Fear: to be judged
Traits: impulsive, funky, exciting, excitable

Thematic Design

1) Love happens because of fate; you cannot manipulate fate.
2) Love needs acceptance, trust and responsibility and is hurt by the reverse.

Obstacle Design

Story Chart

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