It has been theorized that the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is meant to represent a circular timeline. That is to say that Joel and Clementine maintain a perpetual system of falling in and out of love before having their memories of each other erased. As eloquent as this theory may seem, I like to think it is not accurate.
I like to think, even as Joel and Clem accept their relationship will not work, their experience of finding each other again and gaining understanding of their previous relationship together would inspire them to do things differently. Perhaps their understanding of their incompatibility causes them to give more care to the relationship this next time around. For me, the saddest moment in this film is when Clem says to Patrick no one she has dated has ever given her a piece of jewelry she liked. In this one utterance, she reveals how her relationship with Joel was different, was special. It makes sense to me their first time around would work as a cautionary tale for their second attempt. Going into this second effort, they already have a great tool at their disposal they didn’t their first try; they have their Lacuna tapes. They have a road map of major issues they may hope to encounter and may plan ahead. Of course it’s quite possible they would’ve listened to their tapes and realized their willingness to jump in head-first a second time was hasty. At the same time, how much better would all of my failed relationships been if we could’ve gone into them with complete honesty? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but those scenes of Joel and Clem’s happy relationship falling apart seem as though they could’ve gone very differently if they only knew more about each other’s needs. If Joel could’ve given Clementine a little more space and if Clem could’ve been a little more considerate of Joel’s feelings, their relationship could’ve felt much more like the Light and Day – Polyphonic Spree music video. The scene most emblematic of this disconnect is Joel’s final dream scene. He and Clem are at the beach house:
Joel: I walked out, I walked out the door!
Joel: I don’t know. I felt like a scared little kid, I was like… it was above my head, I don’t know.
Clementine: You were scared?
Joel: Yeah. I thought you knew that about me…
It is true no relationship I’ve experienced feels anything like that first, getting-to-know-you stage of romantic love after a certain amount of time. I’ve often described this stage as sex and elation. But when that fades, I’d like to think, if we care enough about each other, something stronger may grow out of it.