Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind: Dollhouse Inspiration?

by admin on June 8, 2008 · 3 comments

“You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story.”

Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind

How poignant. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind appears to share several parallels with the Dollhouse premise.

Like the novel Never Let Me Go, this film could well have been a subconscious inspiration for Dollhouse – in particular, ‘Eternal Sunshine’ asks questions about self-awareness and whether or not the soul can survive an ever changing (or deleted) ‘memory’.

Here’s a little background to the premise of Eternal Sunshine (Spoilers follow):

Although they apparently do not realize it at the time, Joel and Clementine are in fact former lovers, now separated after having spent two years together. We learn that after a nasty fight, Clementine hired a New York firm–Lacuna, Inc.–to erase all memories of their relationship. (The name lacuna was probably derived from the concept of Lacunar amnesia, which is amnesia about a specific event.) Upon discovering this, Joel is devastated and decides to undergo this same procedure himself. However, while unconscious and having these same memories erased, he rebels, realizing he wants to hold on to his memories of Clementine and himself after all.

Much of the film takes place in Joel’s mind as he struggles to preserve at least some memory of his love for Clementine. We watch their love and courtship go in reverse. The memories are slowly erased while Joel tries his best to resist the procedure and hide inside his own mind.

In separate and related story arcs, the employees of Lacuna are revealed to be more thanperipheral characters in scenes which further demonstrate the harm caused by the memory-altering procedure. Mary (Dunst) turns out to have had an affair with the married doctor who heads the company (Wilkinson), a relationship which she agreed to have erased from her memory when it was discovered by his wife.

Once Mary learns of this, she steals the company’s records and sends them to all of its clients. Joel and Clementine come upon these records just after having re-encountered each other. They struggle to understand the documents, given that they have no clear memory of having known each other, let alone having had a relationship and electing to have the memory erased. In the end they are drawn together despite their forgotten history.

The reason why I find this particularly relevant in relation to Dollhouse, is because we know that at some point Echo and two other Dolls – Victor and Sierra – will start to remember each other. They will be drawn to one another, despite constantly having their memories deleted.

So what is it that allows them to form this relationship and become “groupies” as Topher Brink calls them? If their memories are gone, then what is it that manifests this intrinsic ‘memory’? For me, this is Joss Whedon exploring the soul of human beings, it’s almost as if he’s saying that although the mind tells us what to think, it’s the soul which connects as people. The soul can be drawn to those who remind us of who we really are.

I guess the saying “soul survivor” can be applied here, because the soul survives the imprints which are programmed into the mind. However, perhaps there’s a paradox – if the mind is pulling in one direction, and the soul is pulling in the other..surely something has to give? If one becomes too ‘aware’ of the soul, and understands that this is what makes us who we are, then is that not defeating the object..wouldn’t this corrupt the purity of the soul? Perhaps Adelle has a point? What will the impact be on Echo and the other dolls, if they should become too aware of their souls?

Another question is: where does it end? With science becoming more advanced and unregulated, what if the next step would be to erase the soul? Total Tabula Rasa..blank slate. Wiping the mind is one thing..the seemingly indestructible soul survives..but what if it didn’t? What if there was a way to imprint the dolls with different souls, changing  not only who they THINK they are..but who they ARE?

Of course, this is only my interpretation of what Whedon ‘could’ do with this premise he’s created..I’m only going on the trailer and the snippets of info that he’s told us. But I sincerely hope that he does take deep explorations such as this.

wiesengrund June 9, 2008 at 10:02 am

yeah, there was this nice interview where he adressed that:

Q:You’re going to get a lot of Eternal Sunshine comparisons …
Whedon: Eternal Sunshine, it’s that same sort of idea of “What about our relationships is real, and what is just what we’re projecting?” And that’s really … this whole [thing] revolves around the idea of what we expect from each other, what we believe about ourselves, and how all of that can be torn apart, and how you can build, from scratch, your own identity. So it’s very dark and very morally gray.

Roco June 17, 2008 at 9:37 am

Hi wiesengrund, i’m not sure why your comment got held up in the spam queue!? 😯 Anyway, sorry about that.

Ah yes, I remember that interview, it’s really good to think that DH could share parallels with Eternal Sunshine. He’s spot on with the ‘morally gray’ aspect of the whole thing, I mean constnatly re-creating identity through memory-erasing could be argued to be a form of ‘cheating’, of bypassing the harsh realities of life..

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