3. Why is this Night Different from Other Nights?
Our frames are also our maturity. They are the contexts of our experience, understandings that we have won, even from bitter loss. There is a blithe, pagan, childlike innocence to having no memory and no context. Within Jewish consciousness, remembering is a Divine command; we are invited every Pesach to remember and re-enact, not to forget. Of course, the framing is not all; Pesach comes around year after year, but it's always different. Another year goes by, friends and relatives are lost and won, our world changes and our views change in that world. The constant frame, the pre-set order - the seder - allows us to observe the changes that have taken place in its context. Pesach - the Festival of Liberation - gives us a landmark, a frame through which we can measure the depth of our understanding's enslavement to our own biography: we have no understanding without our memory.
One of the morals of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is that having a context for a relationship, for a word, for a person is a crucial part of that person. Without that context we are lessened. Early in Eternal Sunshine, we observe Joel - post-erasure - tell Clementine that he has no particular association with her name. Later, we learn that his deep associations it -- in particular, his favourite Huckleberry Hound toy that would sing O My Darling Clementine - have been erased. There is something beautiful about Joel's rebirth - he says, "Clementine, that means mercy… it's a beautiful name." - but also something asseverated about his assertion of etymology and opinion. Some would see his freshness as a form of renewal, but his pared down response is the honesty of the sick, for whom - as Clementine puts it -- "Nothing makes any sense."
Apart from the performative aspect of the title - for a film specifically about the erasure of memory, it is preternaturally difficult to remember - its presence in the film reminds us that the context is vitally important; the title suggests a kind of blithe ignorance that denies reality and makes growth impossible. It is originally enthusiastically spouted by Mary (Kirsten Dunst), Lacuna's receptionist who found it, out of context, in her Bartlett's book of quotations. She quotes it as if it is an ex cathedra piece of wisdom by "Pope Alexander" and gushes (she is in love and high on pot) that Lacuna is doing a wonderful thing by giving people a chance to be free again, like children, from their memories.
In contrast to Mary's virginal and blithe innocence, stands Dr Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), who points out to her that the author is the distinctly less cathedral Alexander Pope. In his world-weary cynicism, Howard fails to point out that it comes from Pope's 1717 "Letter from Eloise to Abelard " about an abandoned, imprisoned lover ("their days eternal bound") and a love so doomed that Eloise envies the
This is a context that Mary will never explicitly discover, but will learn to regret nevertheless. At the end of the film Mary, whose memory of her first affair with Dr Howard had been pressured into erasure, returns all the documentation - all the history - of the 'patients' to them. Through understanding her error, she frees herself from her submissive affair with the plausible but pathetic older doctor. 'Patients' etymologically means 'sufferers' and it is the survival of their suffering, and the experience that they have won from it, that she returns to them. Eternal Sunshine's ambiguous but upbeat ending demands that we neither forget nor be trapped by our frames. Mary's innocence is lost, yet she remains idealistic, in contrast to the defeated Dr. Howard. Clementine and Joel learn that they may well come to loathe one another, for precisely the same reasons they find each other attractive to begin with. And yet, they choose to go ahead with it anyway. They reject both the obliviousness of the "spotless mind" and the doom of foreknowledge, opting instead for the freedom of knowledge, the freedom to repeat themselves.
Persistence of Vision
Reading Toqueville in An Election Year
Life During Wartime
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From previous issues:
A Song of Ascents
Faces of Death