Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (ESSM) was voted the best movie of the decade by the Onion AV club [Source: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-films-of-the-00s,35931/] as well as the Austin Film Critics Association.
Reviewers tend to mention the film's "emotional core" as the reason for its success. I have read many reviews of ESSM and have been more than a little bewildered by the lack of explicit reference to one particularly pivotal and precious scene.*
Joel is desperately trying to salvage his memories of Clementine from destruction. Clementine advises Joel to hide her "somewhere really buried!" We are then presented with a scene from Joel's memory of deep humiliation and shame, a memory where Joel is completely alone being bullied into submission. We see him smashing a bird with a hammer, the camera cuts away to a bird flying away from a tree. It is not the act that is so much important, but the utter loneliness and desperation of a kid with no one on his side. A scene of innocence lost. However, Joel reconstructs the memory with Clementine on his side, in the words of Alice Miller, a helping witness. Little Clementine redirects Joel firmly stating "Joel, it's not worth it, they're not worth it, come on!"
Little Joel: "I'm so ashamed."
Little Clementine:"It's OK. You're a little kid."
Joel: "I wish I knew you when I was a kid."
It is painful, humiliating memories that often keep us from connecting with others and sharing our true selves. I think its safe to say that most of us have humiliating memories, or can at least identify with the terrible act of being humiliated.
The reconstruction of the memory helps Joel let go of it. Clementine reminds him that his innocence was never really lost, after all he was only a kid.
I think this gets at the emotional core of every human being. No one likes being humiliated, and no one likes having their innocence taken away.
Sharing pain and recasting past events to restore our natural innocence is essential to healing in life and to moving forward. Even if we didn't have helping witnesses as children, we can still find them as adults, they can still witness our past -- if we are willing and able to share it -- and show us our true innocence, a feeling of which every human needs and deserves.
(* during this scene one of the most beautiful piano pieces from the film score is played, called "Peer Pressure").
by Tim LaDuca
"How happy are the blameless vestal's lot,
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind,
Every prayer answered, every wish resigned."
- Alexander Pope
"How happy the innocents' life, devoted to God.
Unknowing of the world, and of the world is not.
Ne'er tragedy visited, immortality awaits.
In naïveté, here come the pearly gates."