Love is a weird and wonderful contradiction – it is unique and mesmerising, yet also tragic. Jason Silva refers to this idea of love as one that is intimately related to the notion of melancholy – both existing in the same space, which is why when we are rewarded with emotion we cannot tell between happiness and sadness. Barthes (1977) further defines this as:
“Love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory…”
Why is it that when we are struck by love, it is immediately a memory? The moment it is happening we are already worried the moment will end or that it is too good to be true. When we are in love or heartbroken, our whole world is consumed with a complexity of emotions that we struggle to explain. During heartbreak, why do we automatically reminisce about what we have loss, even though we know it will cause painful emotions. What if we had this ability to control our memories – to rewind, pause or even erase. How will it affect the dynamics our relationships and the way we love.
The film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” by Michel Gondry and television anthology series “Black Mirror” are both science-fiction explorations of this notion of memory and love. They present worlds that are technologically advanced with devices and processes that can affect or control our consciousness and memories.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” tells the story of formal lovers Joel and Clementine. Now separated, Clementine has undergone a procedure that erases all of her memories of their relationship. Joel soon discovers this and is devastated, deciding to undergo the procedure himself. The film is played within Joel’s mind as the memory erasure occurs. He relives those pivotal memories in reverse. As he sees the happier moments, he begins to realise he is still in love with Clementine and fights the erasure process to preserve what is left of her in his mind.
Gondry demonstrates an extreme version of what out brain has the ability to do – we constantly are creating new memories that replace old ones, becoming distant yet not completely forgotten. This is why we can fall in love again and experience the same emotions. Yet, if we were presented with this procedure that completely obliterates certain memories, it could completely change the nature of humans, we may never learn or grow. We might desire to eliminate these memories at the time but is it really what we want?
Similarly in “Black Mirror”, the episode ‘Entire History of You’ further explores this idea of memory control, with the characters’ having the ability completely access every memory in extreme detail with a grain device that is inserted behind their ear that records everything they do, see or hear. They can be played back in front of the person’s eye or on a screen (called a re-do).
The episode depicts the tumultuous relationship of married couple, Liam and Ffion. Liam arrives a dinner party, where is he introduced to his wife’s old friend Jonas. As the night progresses, he becomes suspicious of how fondly Ffion is looking at Jonas and laughing at his jokes. It is later revealed that he is former boyfriend of Ffion and Liam becomes paranoid.
In this reality, the range of emotions, fears and curiosities that we experience in relationships are dissected and revealed. The affect of this technology upon relationships completely changes dynamics in every aspect e.g. during sex, they both replay old memories of passionate sex from earlier in their relationship. Liam becomes increasingly more paranoid, acting erratically and violent. Ffion finally admits to having an affair with Jonas 18 months ago, in which he threatens her to replay the affair on screen to prove it. Liam is devastated; he replays happy memories before he ultimately cuts the grain out.
These future scenarios demonstrate the dark side of technological design and the implication it has on how we experience love and loss. Do we cave into our desires and requests during love and heartache or is it all part of being human?
Barthes, R, 1977. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments . 2nd ed. London, United Kingdom: Vintage Publishing .