Pursuit of Remarriage and Eternal Sunshine

Cavell’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ [1] discusses the genre of the ‘Comedy of Remarriage’ that arose in the era of the Hollywood talkie. He contextualises the genre in a reactionary period where films were ‘fairy tales for the depression’ [2]. His definition determines that, ‘…the heroine is a married woman and the drive of the plot is not to get the central pair together, but to get them back together’ [3]. 

Image from ‘Eternal Sunshine’

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, Anonymous Content, 2004) is an example of a contemporary extension of the genre. This genre stands apart from its predecessors because these films don’t simply dissect marriages/relationships, but they create a sense of ‘…acknowledgement… the achievement of a new perspective on existence’ [4]. 

Image from ‘Eternal Sunshine’

In Eternal Sunshine the characters, Clementine and Joel, go on a journey towards ‘remarriage’ after they attempt to erase each other from their minds after a break up. ‘Reading the middle of Eternal Sunshine as an extravagant remarriage conversation between Joel and Clementine’ [5] is unavoidable because their desire to return to each other permeates into all of their interactions. For example, this clip [6] showscases that their desire goes beyond a sexual nature and presents itself as a childhood fantasy to be held and looked after.

This is an example of the genre because ‘the obstacle to the pair’s getting back together is not some force outside of their relation… the obstacle lies rather in some aspect of human relationships’ [7]. As Cavell says, in this genre the woman demands ‘mutual freedom, especially of the views each holds of the other’ [8], and Clementine is able to achieve this when Joel also erases his memories and is forced to confront their shared past before they can ‘remarry’ as a couple.

 

Sources

[1] Cavell, Stanley. ‘Introduction: Words for a Conversation’ and ‘The Same and Different,’ Pursuit of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981), 1-42, 229-263.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 2.

[4] Ibid, 19.

[5] Day, William. ‘I Don’t Know, Just Wait: Remembering Remarriage in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman, ed. David LaRocca (University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 134.

[6] https://youtu.be/JRD0AoAucG4

[7] Day, The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman, 137.

[8] Cavel, Pursuit of Happiness, 19.

2 comments

  1. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a good example to use as evidence of Stanley Cavell’s argument in contemporary screen comedy. I like how you draw upon William Day as well as this strengthens and broadens your argument. The screenshots are excellently labelled but it could have helped if you had linked another clip in the post.

  2. Absolutely love this. I would add that this contemporary style breaks from the old and new Comedy as the Hero doesn’t engage with a Oedipus complex (minus one scene) and rather is tormented by the fading memory he doesn’t want to forget. And the Heroine doesn’t have to disguise herself. In fact her image and personality becomes a staple for the hero to follow in his mind.

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