Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Montauk is for Lovers: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

In the ancient myths, Hermes and Aphrodite were lovers and she bore an androgynous child to him called Hermaphroditus. However, in some tellings, their son was Eros. This frieze depicts Aphrodite presenting Hermes with Eros, who is well known to us as Cupid, the god of Love. To him our modern Lupercalia- Valentine's Day- is dedicated.

It's no surprise then that Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opens on (and revolves around) Valentine's Day. But the meeting between the film's Hermes and its Aphrodite takes place in semiotically-charged Montauk, Long Island, not in Egypt. Our Hermes is Joel Barrish, played by Jim Carrey. He self-identifies as Hermes by constantly writing in his journal.

These modern mythological love stories seem to need a symbolic castration to summon the goddess of the story and Eternal Sunshine is no different. Here Joel digs in the sand with a stick underneath a cloudy sky. Much to Joel's frustration the stick breaks...

...and sure enough, in the very next second Aphrodite emerges out of the sea-foam, bringing the sunshine with her. This is Clementine, played by the luscious Kate Winslet. Take note of her orange sweatshirt, it pops up again.

The orange sweatshirt is reminiscent of the orange cloak Aprhrodite is draped in by one of the Horae as she herself rises from the sea-foam in her kteis. Unbeknownst to Joel and Clementine, this is not their first encounter.

This is, which we see towards the end of the picture. And again, Clementine is seen emerging from the surf, clad in orange.

Since this part of the story is told at the end of a reverse narrative, we see the castration symbolism after the two of them meet. Here, "Clem" takes a chicken drumstick from Joel's plate and takes a bite. Ouch.

This scene is from when Joel and Clementine unwittingly reunite after encountering each other on the beach at Montauk. Here Clementine asks Joel to show her the constellations, an act which has a precedent from Hermes and Aphrodite's reconciliation.

"Mercurius [Hermes] stirred by Venus’s [Aphrodite's] beauty, fell in love with her, and when she permitted no favours, became greatly downcast, as if in disgrace. Jove [Zeus] pitied him, and when Venus [Aphrodite] was bathing in the river Achelous he sent and eagle to take her sandal to Amythaonia of the Egyptians and give it to Mercurius [Hermes]. Venus [Aphrodite], in seeking for it, came to him who loved her, and so he, on attaining his desire, as a reward put the eagle in the sky [as the constellation Aquilla]. - Hyginus, Astronomica 2.16
But castration symbolism is not incidental to this film. Rather, castration is encoded into the very title of the film itself.

The title which is taken from a line from a poem by the English Freemason Alexander Pope, called "Eloisa to Abelard," published in - wait for it- the year 1717. Yes, that's the same year the first Freemasonic lodge was officially established.

“Eloisa to Abelard” was an elegy to Pierre Abelard, another of the countless great thinkers oppressed by the Church in the Middle Ages. In fact, Abelard was actually castrated for his love for a young student named Heloise, a name not-coincidentally derived from Helios. The relationship of Abelard and Heloise is mirrored in Eternal Sunshine by the love affair between Dr. Mierzwiak and his earnest young assistant, Mary. Charlie Kaufman also referred to "Eloisa to Abelard" in Being John Malkovich, which starred Hollywood's favorite Horus, John Cusack (more on him in the coming weeks).

That takes care of castration, now what about androgyny?

Like Andy in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Joel's androgyny is expressed through his passivity. Clem is the active initiator in the relationship. Many critics made reference to the reversal of Carrey and Winslet's traditional roles. One even referred to Carrey's performance as "maidenly." Clem often calls Joel by the feminine diminutive "Joely."

Joel is so passive that Clem at first is unsure of his gender preference. When he tells her he lives with "someone" she asks if someone is a man or a woman. The non-specific pronoun motif becomes important later in their relationship.

Viewers unfamiliar with the courtship rituals of geekdom might wonder what Clem sees in the child-like, shrinkingly-passive Joel, but I've seen similar couples at conventions and Ren-faires. It used to baffle me as well, until I figured out the mechanics of Jung's anima/animus archetypes. Most guys are attracted to vivacious boho chicks like Clementine (especially if they're as adorable as Kate Winslet), but girls like that often prefer passive men who won't challenge or upstage them.

Clem's own androgyny is expressed in verbal hints strongly suggesting a casual or opportunistic bisexuality. Here Clem and Joel break into a summer home in Montauk belonging to "David and Ruth Laskin." Clem announces that that will be their identity and asks Joel which of the couple he'd like to be. She makes it known her gender identity can be flexible, which is consonant with the Boho neologism "heteroflexible."

We're then led to believe that Clem is indiscriminately promiscuous - or that Joel at least believes she is- and the conversation dealing with her suspected infidelities uses ambiguous pronouns in relation to gender. Their last argument before their split took pace after Clem returned home drunk at 3am and was over whether Clem f**ked some-one, not some "guy."

And true to form, Joel infers that Clem uses sex to get "people" to like her - again, a gender non-specific pronoun. Joel later expresses his fear that "she'll sooner or later go around f***ing everybody." Joel is irritated that she was out late but doesn't seem too shocked by the prospect that she'd be out having sex with a stranger. Perhaps he assumes it's a woman.

Another of Clem's personality traits is her drinking. This is reminiscent of the Egyptian version of Aphrodite, Hathor (or Athyr). It's this writer's opinion that the name Katherine (ostensibly meaning "pure" in Greek) is ultimately derived from "Hathor."

Katherine can be broken down to Ka-Hathor-Ein or Ka-Athyr-Ein -- ein being the Greek suffix mean "to have" or "to be," and Ka meaning spirit or life force. Ka-Hathor-Ein would translate into "To Have the Spirit of Hathor." Saint Catherine is identified with the Sinai, which also housed the Cave of Hathor. The name "Kate" is the diminutive for Katherine.

Kate Winslet's middle name is Elizabeth, a name of ultimate Egyptian origin. It's ostensible translation is "My God is My Oath," but could also be a contraction of Eloah-Isis-Beth, meaning "House of Isis the Goddess."
But Egyptian word puzzles bring us back to Montauk, which is either an Indian tribe name or a convenient, crypto-Masonic codeword meaning "Montu the Hawk." The logo there is from a rollar coaster ride at Busch Gardens, but Montauk itself is ripe with portent.

To Be Continued....


  1. I'm riveted. Since everything eventually comes back to X-Files in this blog, do we get to Montauk mind control, time travel? :-)

    This archetype ritual you're revealing is fascinating. Seeing it all over the place now.

  2. Speaking of the hermaphrodite, I think you'd like this NYT article about rival figure skaters Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir: Figure Skating Rivalry Pits Athleticism Against Artistry

  3. Oh, we're getting to Montauk. I actually had that in the first version of this post, but split it off since I wanted to do a bit more research into the topic.

  4. That NYT article brings Blades of Glory to mind...

  5. Blades of Glory immediately came to my mind too!

    Is it just me or does Jim Carey do a ton of star watching in his movies or what?!?!

    Cable Guy comes to mind but am pretty sure he does in most of them.

    Great stuff Christopher, again.

  6. Oh My Darling, Oh My darling, Oh My darling Clementine, anyhow forgot the rest of it. Clementines are a form of Tangerine which are tiny oranges.fashionable at Xmas.

  7. Great analysis of a great film – Manliness aside, I cried like a freaking baby towards the end of this film – When she tells him to “Make up a Goodbye” – Habituation is the real killer – You can’t be “Pumpkin” or “Princess” forever – That third shot of Heroin never feels quite as good as the first. Then your love evolves/devolves into a roommate situation where you’re clinging to an image of the person you once loved – a photograph – a flickering hallucination slowly evaporating: The real version changed into some unrecognizable butterfly a while back, and she’s slowly forgetting you too – and you’re left grasping at straws – Does love stand a chance?