Personal Identity and Memories

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After having their memories of one another erased, Joel and Clementine don’t necessarily become different people but rather the people the were two year prior before they had met with some exceptions. In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the main character Joel has his memories of his ex erased after learning that Clementine, a person who he had been dating had her memories of him erased. He realizes while his memories are being erased that it isn’t truly what he wants but can’t really run from it in the position he’s in. The next day, he wakes up with no memory of Clementine and basically backtracking two years and even forgetting about things that relate to Clementine including small things from his childhood that remind him of her. When Joel and Clementine’s memories of one another were erased, they lost part of themselves but not their whole identity, however, they didn’t go back to being the same them from two years ago fully.

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While Joel had been thinking about getting back together with an ex from years ago, Naomi, he also lost memories of other things such as his favorite cartoon growing up. This was due to the fact that he linked Clementine to the song Oh My Darling, Clementine. As he lost memories of a cartoon that was once his favorite, if he were to have learned something from that cartoon, he would most likely no longer have learned that, thus him losing part of his identity. “It follows, then, that it cannot be the fact that memory presupposes the identity of the rememberer with the person who had the experience that underlies the crucial role that memory is taken to play in the constitution of personal identity,”(Schechtman p.77). According to this memory is a part of a person’s’ personal identity. This is because experiences teach people different things and the memories people have and who they experience those memories with affect said person.

At the beginning of the film, the audience is given the sense that Joel doesn’t fully know who he is and des things usually out character: “Took a train out to Montauk. I don’t know why. I’m not an impulsive person,”(Gondry). Joel’s narration of the uncertainty of his own actions makes it quite obvious that he doesn’t grasp a part of himself since the part of him that does understand was erased. Joel has lost more than his memories of Clementine. He has lost some personal truth about not only reality but the world he experiences, and with that truth a piece of Joel’s personal identity is lost along with it. Clementine also experiences this when at the end of the movie, as they both listen to the recording of themselves it becomes clear to those watching this scene that the felt robbed of part of themselves. Are people simply products of their memories? The answer is no. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind argues that people are the product of their experience and everything that’s happened to them, and that the better people remember, the better they know themselves, and accurately knowing oneself is important.

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Personal Identity and Memories. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from
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