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On “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

I have chosen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for this reflection paper. I immediately took an interest in it primarily because I have read good feedback and reviews about the movie, so I decided to see it for myself. Another thing that’s fascinating about the movie is the fact that the characters are actually limited, in a sense that there are only a few major characters introduced, who are closely related to each other, or connecting with each other, and even with the timeline of the story receding, these characters do not confuse the viewer about their roles in the film.

That being said about the characters, I took interest in Stan (Mark Ruffalo), the technician from Lacuna, Inc. who performs the memory erasure procedure for Joel (Jim Carrey). With Stan being considered a relatively minor character, why him? Basically for the reason that his character was never completely expounded on during the course of the film, except near the end where he confesses to Mary (Kirsten Dunst) that he is in love with her. We see Stan doing his job and executing Dr. Mierzwiak’s orders, but on the other hand, his stand on the memory erasure procedure has not been established in the movie. From my point of view, he could be completely impassive regarding the whole process, yet I assume that he would’ve had been okay with the procedure being done on Mary (Dunst). In my opinion, he would’ve completely sided with the whole concept of the memory-erasing procedure, for it would’ve worked to his advantage that Mary had his memory of being in love with Dr. Mierzwiak, because their relationship would’ve worked out. But that has never really been confirmed, it is only an observation from a viewer such as myself. Stan created an image of his character as a contemplative observer throughout the course of the film. He establishes a connection with almost all the characters, whether directly or indirectly, but he never really interferes with the decisions being made by these characters. He never makes any major action or leap of faith, throughout the movie, nor does he take any side, given that the other characters have different views on the issue.

As with myself, observations and knowledge through sense is of big importance, and I value experiences, not only the primary sense data but the emotions they produce in me, because it provides a view of the world. Yet I am aware that these senses can be deceived and mistaken, and sometimes, I tend to question the certainty and infallibility the ‘knowledge’ I acquire (knowledge isn’t real knowledge if there is room for doubt). Like for instance, what about in cases of hallucinations? I can perceive them with my eyes, sometimes hear sounds accompanying these hallucinations, and believe them to be real. But then, what is real, anyway? This external world we recognize and interact in? What about taking into consideration the subjectivity of perceptions? We cannot really know if we all view this world in a similar manner, unless we have faith that others share similar views of the world. But if not, could that entail that we have ‘own worlds’?

Another problem I seem to have is being borderline indifferent with regard to certain things. I have a tendency to take in information as they are which leads to an unexamined life.

With regard to the movie, if I were to associate it with a certain saying, it would definitely be “Out of sight, out of mind”. The saying means that something is directly dismissed off as unimportant if it is not in our direct view. Relating the concept of the movie to Berkeley’s “Esse is Percipi” (To be seen is to be perceived), that is the whole purpose of Lacuna, Inc.: To make their clients forget people (and animals) who have made a mark in their lives and possibly elicited undesirable emotions from them, the procedure being fully consented to by their clients, of course. The clients have indeed perceived these individuals they wanted erased from their memories, and produced undesirable emotions and memories they want forgotten. With them gone from their memories, it is possible and reasonable that virtually in the perception of the person who underwent the procedure, that the person erased is not currently being perceived, therefore nonexistent in his/her world. But the problem here is, the person ‘eraseddoes exist! Also, does the way you think or feel about the person give an accurate account of who he/she really is? According to Berkeley, individuals cannot know any “real” object or matter “behind” the object as they perceive it, which “causes” their perceptions. He thus concluded that all that individuals know about an object is their perception of it—they cannot know if an object is; they can only know if an object is perceived by a mind. Now from that we see a problem. And just as the story progresses, we see that Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Winslet) perceive each other after the procedure has been done on both of them, but the perceiving of each other does not elicit the same emotions and memories that have been erased. Not only has the problem of being “nonexistent” when you actually do been raised, but also a problem of personal identity: Are you the same person that you were before the procedure? Do your memories constitute your view of a personal identity?

Socrates’ famous saying states that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What is the unexamined life? For me, it is being unreflective, not taking action, being entirely apathetic and indifferent about the world and how one perceives it. It is about taking in every bit of information as a universal truth but not bothering to examine it. In the movie, we see the people choosing to rid themselves of memories—experiences that they refuse to face, for they would rather forget. For me, this is a form of an unexamined life, and the hurt or pain they have chosen to forget does not count as reason for running away from these people, these memories. We are human beings who are reflective, who think, and examine our experiences; and choosing to forget is not an option. Ignorance is not bliss.

Sources:

Philosophy 1 readings (Berkeley)

http://philfilms.utm.edu/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/perception-episprob/#NatSenExp

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