One of the many rewarding parts of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is the fact that the film contains almost no dialogue that sounds like actual neuroscience. The film, as you may already know, tells the story of two star-crossed lovers whose stars have gotten so crossed that they decide to erase their memories of each other, using the services of a company called Lacuna Inc.

Lacuna’s offices have been cunningly art-directed to look like a low-rent plastic surgeon’s, which is precisely the point. Memory erasure, in Eternal Sunshine’s world, is just the next logical step up from breast augmentation and Prozac. When Clementine (Kate Winslet’s character) first decides to shed her memories of Joel (played by Jim Carrey), she does it “on a lark,” the way you might get your forehead Botoxed on a whim. But despite the futurist premise, Sunshine spares us the gratuitous speech explaining How It All Works. There’s no animated mosquito à la Jurassic Park or some hopeless jargon about “hacking into the neocortex.” The closest you get is a nervous conversation between Joel and his doctor: “Is there any risk of brain damage?” The doctor replies, “Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage. It’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking, nothing you’ll miss.”



For the record, using today’s technology, it is not possible to selectively erase an entire person from your memory. But Eternal Sunshine still demonstrates a remarkably nuanced understanding of how the brain forms memories, particularly memories about intense emotional experiences. The film displays a more subtle model of memory formation than the acclaimed thriller Memento, in which a man incapable of forming long-term memories hunts down a killer; he furiously scribbles clues onto Polaroids before his memory fades to black.



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