The basic plot is simple enough: Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet, fall in love, start a relationship, and break up. Clementine seeks out the services of Lacuna, a business run by a Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) who has developed a procedure through which people can have memories erased. When Joel finds out Clementine has erased him from her memory, he is devastated and decides to have the same procedure done.
Having no memory of the other person, Joel and Clementine eventually meet each other again and re-discover the things they loved about one another. However, the film isn't about the reconciliation of a great love affair - that would be too simplistic and trite. Instead, the movie, via the characters, ponders greater philosophical ideas, like how much do our memories make us who we are? Or, if we lose our memories, are we given a fresh start or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? And, given full knowledge about a person, would you still enter into a relationship with him/her?
None of these are simple questions to answer, but they are extremely interesting to ponder as the narrative of the film weaves in and out of Joel's past, present, and eventually his memories. The most exciting moments of the film take place in Joel's mind as he realizes, while dreaming, that he is undergoing the Lacuna procedure, regrets it, and fights desperately to retain his memories of Clementine - sometimes to comical effect, sometimes to tragic.
When I re-watched the film last night, something else struck me. For those of us who don't have the Lacuna procedure, what should we do with our memories of past relationships? Should we focus on the good so as not to breed resentment? Should we focus on the bad so as not to repeat the same mistakes? Or, should we just concentrate on the things we can change and try to move on as best we can, however feebly? None of those are particularly attractive choices, but they seem to be the only choices we have. At least until someone actually comes up with a real-life Lacuna procedure.