The Theme Of Love Is History

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Someone may ask, what is history? History can be many things. History can be recollections of the war, medieval societies, memorable movements, and more. While history is a collection of random events that someone had deemed important, all history is, is simply just events and memories that have been perceived in some sort of way. History occurs throughout one’s daily life, whether it’s a recalled memory or a past event that had a major impact on the way someone’s life is the way it is. Past relationships are often deemed history for a person. Throughout life, relationships are developed and once they are dead, they become part of the past, part of history. In the movie, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry, characters, Clementine and Joel, both shared a magnetic connection that later ended drastically. Both unable to handle the history they had with one another, they decided to have their memories of each other erased. When analyzing the complex love story of Clementine and Joel, the best way to interpret their relationship and story is through the theory of history found in The Theory Toolbox. It is ideal to examine their love story through the history theory as it allows for a clear understanding of the plot of the movie, the main events that are played out of the removal of Joel’s memories. Through examining the movie using the history theory, the viewer can better understand the process of the backwards love story and how in the end Joel and Clementine found love for one another once again.

When interpreting the movie through the history theory, the viewer must keep in mind that the historian, or person recalling the occurrence of the past, may have interpreted the past in a certain way. Throughout the movie, the relationship between Clementine and Joel is shown through Joel’s interpretation of what occurred. This would make Joel the historian, in a sense, as he is the one narrating his past relationship through his accounted memories. Just like history, Joel’s memories are an archive of the most valuable events in his relationship. Just like history, his memories are the record of his relationship and everything that happened that he felt was important. It is noted, that when using the history theory, “meaning doesn’t simply emanate from random events; rather, it is the historian who not only assigns the order and coherence to events but also renders them significant or not” (Nealson 108). The plot of the movie follows the sequence of memories from the death of Clementine and Joel’s relationship to the birth of it. It starts with Joel’s recollection of the bad memories and ends with the good, allowing him to have the luxury of seeing his own past played out all over again. It is later understood by the viewer and Joel that he perceived his relationship with fogged eyes, only seeing his whole relationship as a bad part of his life that needed to be forever removed from his history. As the theory suggest, as Joel closely recalled the prior events of his relationship through a different point of view and representation, he ended up seeing the “truth” and the “reality” of his relationship with Clementine through a new perspective and outlook. The history theory exemplifies how Joel, when seeing something through a different perspective, can realize how important that history may be to him and how it didn’t always make him mad and upset, but also made him happy. The viewer can use the history theory to interpret the past of Joel and Clementine as their memories are unfolded and how although these events have already occurred there was still a conscious effort to change them, originally with Joel trying to erase them and later him trying to save them in his head.

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The history theory can then further be used to examine the movie when Joel wakes up from his procedure. That morning he had an impulsive feeling to call in sick and go to Montauk, even though he didn’t normally act impulsively. During this trip, he eventually falls in love once again with Clementine, although he has no prior knowledge of their love. The history theory demonstrates how, “history remains to be written and rewritten; the past is never simply over, done, decided once and for all” (Nealon 119). The movie suggests that although their memory of each other could simply be erased, Joel and Clementine’s history could be rewritten once again. Their prior love made an imprint on their hearts, making them who they are individually. Their past history created who they are as people, later allowing them to subconsciously find each other again. After finding each other again, they later become aware of their prior relationship. They both had the ability to listen to the past through oral history, words, images, and personal stories, in which are all listed as ways one can view history, in order to become aware of what their past was like. Although they know they both priorly said some awful things about each other, Joel questioned himself: Joel: ‘I can’t see anything that I don’t like about you.” Clementine: “But you will! You will think of things, and I’ll get bored of you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me” (Gondry).

In the film, Clementine feared to try again in their newfound love fearing “the famous warning, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Nealon 113). Though history can be “doomed” to repeat itself one can take what they know about their past and use their prior mistakes to rebuild a better outcome or future. Joel simply says okay to Clementine’s response suggesting that it’s okay they end up feeling that way again as long as they try. The movie’s complex use of memories and recollections of past events can only be understood and made meaningful through the understanding and use of the history theory. The theory allows for insight on how history is viewed, interpreted, and used to later develop strategies that can be used in the present (Nealon 112). Understanding the intent of the movie’s use of memories allows for the viewer to understand the beginning of a relationship, to understand the ending of a relationship, and to understand the newfound beginning of a relationship through a narrated sequence of memories. Without understanding this process the viewer loses a major aspect of the film, that ignorance isn’t always bliss, and that not remembering your desired love will not stop history from eventually repeating itself. The use of the history theory allows the viewer to understand how the memories are narrated and interpreted through Joel and how the use of another perspective, such as Clementine, can help for a better understanding of what happened and how to learn from it.

While history is useful in interpreting Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, the difference theory can also arguably be useful. There are several differences between Clementine and Joel. In the movie, Clementine is a very impulsive and crazy girl that is out of the ordinary. Joel, on the other hand, is a more practical character that is made out to be more “normal” and laid back. These differences between Joel and Clementine are what drives them apart from each other. Joel starts to believe Clementine has sex with people so that they will like her, and Clementine starts to grow bored with Joel because he doesn’t live the same exotic lifestyle like her. These differences in their life drive them apart from each other, deterring them away from the reason they fell in love with their differences at the beginning of their romance. The movie can also be interpreted through the theory of time/space. In The Theory Toolbox, it describes that, “our perception of time seems to have a lot more to do with how we’re spending it” (Nealon 122). Throughout the bad times in their relationship, both Joel and Clementine are concerned that they are simply wasting their time on a relationship that is already dead. They both want to make sure they are living their life to the fullest and feel as though one another are wasting their own precious time. When describing his relationship to the doctor, Joel states, “I thought I knew her so well, but I don’t know her at all. What a loss to spend that much time with someone, only to find out that she’s a stranger” (Gondry). The theory of time/space complies with how Joel feels about how his overall relationship with Clementine was, prior to him getting his memories removed. While this theory complies with the feelings of both Joel and Clementine prior to their memory removal procedure, using the time/space theory isn’t ideal in best interpreting the movie. Both the difference theory and time/space theory are useful in interpreting the falling out of the relationship between Clementine and Joel, however, they are not ideal in interpreting the major circulating events of the movie, their past history. When interpreting the movie, it is best done through the history theory and understanding the concept of the narration of the past and the way it will affect the future. Their past is accounted through memories and documented recordings they later receive. Once they become aware of the past, they have the ability to use it to create a better future.

In order to understand the backward love story of Clementine and Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it is best to examine it using the history theory. While other theories such as differences and time/space help in understanding the fallout of their relationship it doesn’t allow for the viewer to fully interpret the plot of the movie that includes the replay of past memories of a love that died. Through a careful narration and replay of a love story’s most important recalled moments, the movie played out a history that although meant to be removed, would be doomed to repeat itself by natural spark of love and fate for each other. While the love Clementine and Joel shared died, in the end, it began again. “History. . . can bind us or free us. It can destroy compassion by showing us the world through the eyes of the comfortable. . .It can both warn and inspire” (Nealon 118). Although warned they may make the same mistakes again through the records of their history, Joel and Clementine are willing to play out their love in the present because for some reason they were destined to meet again and rewrite what they previously had.  


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