I am returning to Eternal Sunshine again to go a bit deeper, specifically into the second half of the film.
Film Structure Analysis 11 has a full analysis of the entire film evenly.
In a broad sense our main characters "meet" at the start of the film.
Act 2 basically launches as Joel decides to embrace this new found reality--a world where one can erase past relationships from their memory--and asks for the procedure himself in response to finding out Clem has done the procedure to erase him from her memory already.
What a topic to go into for film.
Explore the inner workings of the brain, emotion, and memory with a visual and sound based art form.
Okay, back to analysis.
The midpoint as I have discussed is Joel deciding, "I want to call it off!"
Our first culmination shows us that we actually do not want to erase our past relationship. We want to hold onto the good moment(s). So from here the story shifts, and that is what I was focusing on earlier this week while watching again.
Eternal Sunshine Trailer:
Sequence E, from around 54 minutes to around 67 minutes focuses mostly on our main characters attempting to run from the erasing procedure. Primarily we are in Joel's head.
Sequence F, from roughly 67 to 81 minutes in, goes into our B Story between the doctor and his employees, hinting at a possible answer to our story question, but this also sets us up for Joel and Clem to accept that they cannot escape the procedure.
Act 2 ends basically with them sitting at the beach saying, "This is it... Enjoy it." This is such a great moment in the film. It is sad, hard, yet truthful reflection of life, as one must at times reach to simply enjoy the good moments, be with those you love when you are, be present and in the moment with them when you can.
This scene also finishes one of my favorite Plant and Payoffs of all time as Joel mentions that his Huckleberry Hound doll was one of his favorite things when he was a kid. We realize it is something he lost in the procedure, this favorite childhood memory. This is heartbreaking and another underscoring of the answer to the core story question; it is not worth erasing your past love.
So Act 2 ends in an odd way at first glance. It is a somewhat classic film structure move as a "low point" but also does a good job of keeping the audience hooked on what comes next.
Joel and Clem enjoy their time on the beach, revisit the beach house memory, and share their fears and feelings and miscommunications from that night. It is a beautiful moment of healing in some way, or at least honesty and acceptance and forgiveness. Perhaps the most important is forgiveness. This sequence basically goes from 81 to 94 minutes in, ending on the medical team finishing their work and packing up.
And our original goal of erasing our memory has been a success, even though our updated goal of stopping the erasing is a failure.
All that is left are the cassette tapes, the folders, the confusion, a painting clue found by Joel, and some sense of sadness.
But these two people have found each other again somehow. They acknowledge that they have issues in themselves and apparently with each other. They are not perfect. They have been separated. They have separated themselves... "Okay."
We end with them deciding to try love again, without the illusion of perfection, with apparent failures and issues listed openly, without so many of their memories. They will build them again in new ways. They will build them again together. What a solid ending.
(words and images are original)