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The Psychological Importance of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

A Movie Comparison

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starts off one gloomy February morning. Joel Barish suddenly gets an urge to take the train to a beach in Montauk. He calls in sick for work and shortly after arrives by the shore. There is where he meets eccentric blue haired Clementine Kruczynski. The two are weirdly attracted to each other despite their strikingly different personalities. The pair finds a sense of familiarity in each other but neither realizes the true reason why. Later on, we find out that Joel and Clementine have met once before, but both have gotten their memories of each other erased. They shared a long relationship that came to an abrupt stop after Clementine decided to erase all her memories of Joel after a nasty argument. When Joel discovers this, he goes to Lacuna, the clinic where these erasing operations are done, and gets the same done to himself. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about 15-year-old Charlie Kelmeckis, experiencing his freshman year of high school. However, this is not your average high school story, Charlie tells his story by writing letters to someone he’s never talked to before but believes is trustworthy. He becomes friends with two seniors, Sam and Patrick, that notice and appreciates his wallflower personality. Throughout the movie, we find out about Charlie’s complicated past with depression and anxiety brought by multiple traumatic events.

At a glance, these movies seem strikingly different. But if you peel back the layers and begin to analyze the characters and events, they are much more alike than they seem. Both Joel and Charlie have memories that they want to forget at first. Joel’s being those of his and Clementine’s relationship which he blames himself for ending. Charlie’s being those of his best friend Michael who committed suicide, and his Aunt Helen, who we find out molested him multiple times before she died in a car accident. But what they may fail to realize is, the identity of a person is directly connected to their memories of past experiences, no matter how painful those memories are. Over time, a person will begin to repress those memories. Joel begins to regret his decision to erase his memories of Clementine during the procedure as he has to relive them all.  It is nearly impossible to get rid of a person’s memories and keep their identity intact.

Love is a prominent theme in both of these movies. The famous line from The Perks of Being a Wallflower said by Mr. Anderson, Charlie’s freshman advanced English teacher, is, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This can be applied to both movies. As a person goes through traumatic experiences and bad memories, they start to blame themselves for things they can’t control. Charlie shows signs of having PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder from being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was younger. Despite this, he still blames himself for her death. Both of these experiences have affected the way he chooses to give and accept love. As he begins to feel love for Sam, he gets flashbacks of his Aunt which become increasingly bad as his love for Sam grows. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we get to retrace the steps of Joel and Clementine’s relationship backward. We see the rawest parts and as their relationship falls apart in Joel’s mind, it somehow is being simultaneously being mended in the real world. The scenes of the procedure are all a flashback, which includes more flashbacks in the form of fragmented memories. Although they both had each other erased, they both find their way back to each other. Perks of Being a Wallflower and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind both have the underlying theme that our darkest and most difficult moments are needed to explain the person we are today, and how we choose to love. Both of these movies have a level of psychological importance especially to adolescents who may not fully understand topics such as relationships and mental health. Both movies do a great job at shedding light on the darkest of topics while staying to the plot of the story and keeping the viewer intrigued.

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Written by Rita Nguyen

Rita is a 15 year old Vietnamese-American writer, democrat and social activist from Los Angeles, California. On her free time, Rita enjoys exploring the city and reading. She has an endless list of goals and aspirations but ultimately wants to major in Political Science and turn her passion for social justice into a career.

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