Last week’s movie on “Reel Christianity” was “To the Wonder”, a pretty unconventional love story from an unconventional filmmaker. Today’s film is another very unconventional love story from another unconventional screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman. If you don’t know his name yet, you surely will within the next couple years as he and director Guillermo del Toro get ready to make a film version of the book “Slaughterhouse-Five”, a pretty unique sci-fi/war book that I read in high school and loved. And if anyone’s gonna write a screenplay version of “Slaughterhouse-Five”, it should be Charlie Kaufman, the key screenwriter in the 2004 sci-fi/rom-com “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.
“Eternal Sunshine” stars Jim Carrey in one of his best performances ever as Joel, a young man living in New York who finds himself alone on Valentine’s Day. Then that morning on a train, he meets Clementine (Kate Winslet), a much more energetic person than he, and the two seem to hit it off nicely, as they spend more and more time together hanging around the city and falling in love. Suddenly, the film cuts to what seems like a time later, as Joel sits in his car and weeps because he found out that after he and Clementine had a fight one night, she had an operation done that erased him completely from her memory. (Apparently, this kind of operation is possible, affordable, and popular in the movie’s setting.)
So Joel himself decides to have Clementine erased from his memory as well. He goes to the Lacuna, Inc. firm in New York City where he meets Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) and his secretary Mary (Kirsten Dunst). Because this is Valentine’s Day season, the busiest time of the year for operations such as this (which I find darkly comical), it’s tough to get Joel in, but he gets in for the operation, and the majority of the film takes place in Joel’s mind as he sees for the last time all these memories of him and Clementine that are slowly dissipating. And as the memories start to fade away, he realizes that maybe this operation was a mistake, and he starts longing (in his mind) for everything to stop so that he can keep the good memories he had with Clementine.
In some bizarre scenes, Joel tries hiding Clementine in other memories of his, memories of his childhood and memories that he tries to repress, so that even a part of her will still exist in his mind. I know that me explaining it probably sounds very confusing, but trust me, watching it in the film not only makes slightly more sense, but it’s truly fascinating to watch. In the end, Joel has to watch Clementine disappear, and it really is heartbreaking.
Meanwhile, there are still other characters that are exposed to this operation. Dr. Mierzwiak’s assistants Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo) are the ones putting Joel through the operation, and it turns out that Stan and Mary are dating… and so are Patrick and Clementine. When Clementine had her operation, Patrick fell in love with her, and now he witnesses Joel’s memories in order to win Clementine over. Later on in the night, Dr. Mierzwiak has to be called in to help with part of the operation, and through a series of events, Mary discovers a secret about herself: she too underwent the operation after she and Dr. Mierzwiak had an affair that his wife found out about. The next morning, Mary leaves her job and sends all the company’s records to its respective clients.
This means, of course, that the morning where Joel and Clementine “meet” on the train (yeah, the beginning takes place after the operation), they both receive records of their own operations. It’s no surprise that both of them freak out, because not only do they not remember the operation, but they don’t even remember meeting each other to begin with! But their conversation that ends the film sums up the message quite beautifully:
JOEL: I can't see anything that I don't like about you.
CLEMENTINE: But you will! But you will. You know, you will think of things. And I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that's what happens with me.
As the film ends with their reconciliation, the message reminds me of the words of Javier Bardem’s priest in “To the Wonder”: “Love is a duty. You shall love, whether you like it or not.” In the end, Joel and Clementine choose to love each other in spite of each other’s imperfections, in spite of the bumpy road that may be ahead of them in their relationship. And that’s powerful stuff. That’s the kind of love that couples vow to keep when they say they will love one another “for better or for worse”.
Last week, I referenced Ephesians 5 and what Paul says about husbands and wives loving each other. But continuing in that passage, Paul explains the relationship between Christ and the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (5:25-28)
I’m not one to talk because I’m not married, but that love seems like the real deal to me. True love is love that not only forgets all imperfections; it heals them! That’s a topic that can be explored much deeper than I can do on this site, but my prayer for you and me both is that we would ask God to fill us with that love, that we can forgive and heal each other as a body of Christ.