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Christopher Grau’s book, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a volume in Routledge’s The Philosophers on Film series. It contains six essays on various philosophical and psychological themes that arise in the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
In the movie, the protagonist, Joel, wakes up on Valentine’s Day, skips work, takes a train to Montauk, and meets Clementine. Although Joel and Clementine have just broken off their two-year relationship, neither can remember the other or their relationship, because they have each recently undergone a process of memory erasure in an attempt to forget the past and avoid the pain of breaking up.
Most of the essays in the book focus upon the effects that erasing memories would have on relationships.
C. D. C. Reeve writes about the roots of love. He explains that love’s roots lie deep, and, particularly in the case of Joel, in childhood. Thus, erasing Joel’s memories of Clementine results in the erasure of some of his memories of formative childhood events. Reeve argues that erasing all memories of a lover, and thus all the memories of the childhood events that cause the attraction and behavior in the relationship, would leave one with no ability to love, at all.
Troy Jollimore discusses some of Nietzsche’s philosophical concepts that arise in the film. He focuses upon affirmation -- the notion of affirming one’s life and relationships -- and upon the doctrine of eternal recurrence -- the doctrine that one ought to live one’s life as though each act will be done exactly the same way over and over again. Jollimore makes the case that the movie portrays Joel and Clementine’s decision to begin another relationship as an act of affirmation that is in accordance with the doctrine of eternal recurrence.
George Toles also takes up the notion of eternal recurrence and its relevance to the film. In addition to the recurrence that is involved in Joel and Clementine’s second relationship, Toles discusses recurrence with respect to a repeat viewing of the movie. Toles’s essay also includes a wonderful analysis of the scenes in Montauk and the interaction and dialogue between Joel and Clementine.
Stephen L. White writes about philosophical issues with regard to the making of the film. White considers the ways that Gondry challenges certain film theories with respect to visual perception. He provides examples from Eternal Sunshine and from some of Gondry’s other work showing that Gondry experiments with causation and animateness and other ways that the film image can differ from the actual space in front of the camera.
Valerie Tiberius supports the thesis that, when making a decision, sometimes it is good to be calm and cool, while sometimes it is good to be in a powerful emotional state. Julia Driver argues that sometimes, under certain circumstances, the failure to remember someone is harmful to that person.
In addition to the six essays, the book also includes the following introductory material: A note on the director, Michel Gondry, a note on the writer, Charlie Kaufman, a foreword by Gondry, and an introduction by Grau, in which he discusses the six essays of the anthology.
The book is aimed at introductory students of philosophy. Although most of the essays introduce interesting philosophical issues, the themes presented in this anthology are too disparate to allow for the type of comparison that would be useful for a course in philosophy and film. However, the book would be a good choice for the do-it-yourself philosopher and anyone who is both philosophically inclined and a fan of the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
© 2011 Amy Karofsky
Amy Karofsky is an associate professor of Philosophy at Hofstra University. She teaches courses in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, Metaphysics, Atheism, and Philosophic Themes in Film. She is currently working on a defense of necessitarianism.
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