The Idea of Coexistence of Memory and Self in the Movie Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
What’s the relation between memory and self? Does our memory and self work together to coexist, or can they exist independently? Answers to this question vary. On one hand, when considering whether our memory and self work together to coexist, it seems that there is a relation between the memory and self, such that they are both interconnected and rely on one another for humans to fully function. On the other hand, when considering whether our memory and self can exist independently, it seems that there is no relation between our memory and self, such that if the memory fails, the self can replace it and still allow humans to fully function.
As for Locke, he believes both the memory and self work together to coexist. For instance, in Of Identity and Diversity, Locke believes that to have a continuity of consciousness, Person A who exists at time one can be the same as Person B who exists at time two, if and only if Person B can resemble at time two experiences of Person A at time one. Having said that, Locke believes that in order for humans to have a continuous life, and for the self to exist, the memory has to coexist as well, such that if a person has partial or total amnesia, then this is equivalent to death. Given Locke’s belief, this compelling argument supports the claim that both the memory and self need to work together to coexist.
Despite this argument being quite plausible, this claim would seem to be refuted in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This film presents people with partial amnesia, such that their experiences happen to be the exact opposite of our claim that both memory and self need to work together to coexist. Although the characters in this film experiences partial amnesia, the self is still intact, and the film seems to respond that our memory and self can exist independently. Throughout the film, we see the love journey between Joel and Clementine, and how factors such as partial amnesia, or the inability to recall experiences cannot affect the self from existing. Further, in the film Joel attempts to conceal Clementine in his most embarrassing childhood memories. As a result, we see that Clementine continues to live out her own reality, no matter the circumstances, and like Clementine, the self still exists despite its continuous search for the mind.
Throughout the film, we witness Clementine and Joel’s attempts of regaining experiences they once shared, making us question whether there is a relation between memory and self. From the very first clip, Joel spots a woman on the beach, and eventually sees her on the train wondering to himself why he falls in love with every woman he sees. What Joel doesn’t realize is that this woman is Clementine, someone he’s met before in the exact same way, and even loved. From this moment forward, we’re encouraged to believe that the self can still exist, even if the memory fails.
Despite our constant questioning of the relation between memory and self, we can see that even with partial amnesia, the self can still exist independently without the help of reflection or memory. Whether we’re trying to actively reflect, replay or relive our experiences, the self does not change, and we can still live a continuous life. From this, as depicted in the film, we can see that there is no relation between memory and self, and they do not need to work together to coexist, but rather they can exist independently.
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