4 min read

Growing up with no hard feelings

Jennifer Lawrence’s latest eyebrow-raising romcom brings the sexual-awakening story back from the 90s movie graveyard. Lauren Windle explores what it really means to grow up.

Lauren Windle is an author, journalist, presenter and public speaker.

A young couple sit next to each other on a beach sharing a towel.
Andrew Barth Feldman and Jennifer Lawrence.
Sony Pictures.

I hate to sound like your moany Uncle Raymond, but they just don’t make romcoms like they used to. The likes of 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless and She’s All That have never been replicated in recent times and attempts to recreate the 90s nostalgia have always fallen flat on their face.  

It’s for this reason, I was excited when I saw No Hard Feelings hit the cinemas. The latest Jennifer Lawrence movie was pitched as a hilarious coming-of-age tale for the modern era. The story sees strapped-for-cash millennial Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence) hired by the parents of an introverted gen-z lad Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman), to help him into blossom into maturity – via the medium of sex. The meddling helicopter mum and dad were concerned their talented 19-year-old was more interested in computer games than socialising and fornication. 

The film is silly. If you’re reading this to establish whether you should go and see it, I would say sure – if you want a low-emotional-investment flick that you’ll watch once but not twice. But the question it raised for me was: How do we know when we’ve grown up?  

I felt I was most grown-up when tackling things alone. I wanted to be open to all experiences on the spectrum of sensible to reckless. 

If the initial premise of the film is anything to go by, growing up means embracing partying, reckless behaviour, drinking and losing your virginity. This is, probably word for word, how 14-year-old me would have described maturity. In my adolescence, I believed that increased maturity meant more independence. I felt I was most grown-up when tackling things alone. I wanted to be open to all experiences on the spectrum of sensible to reckless. I formed opinions hastily and defended them resolutely. I was desperate to be trusted and to be “my own person”. My parents were a humiliating presence in my life who crowded my decisions with their own, old-fashioned logic. From my perspective; the less they were allowed influence, the better. To me, being an adult involved doing “adult things”, those that came with a legal minimum age requirement.  

This is the kind of “maturing” that Percy is encouraged to do in the film. Maddie orders him a strong alcoholic drink, attempts to lure him into casual sex and persuades him to skinny dip. She instructs him to consider himself an adult and to distance himself from his parents (in fairness they did have a tracker on the 19-year-old’s phone and had hired a woman to take his virginity, so she probably wasn’t wrong in this instance). By all accounts, it seemed Maddie considered maturity to involve the same things as I did at age 14. 

But I’ve come to realise that these milestones are often just touchpoints in a maturing process that is entirely circular. Stay with me on this one; ideally, we start life reliant on those who care for us, ensuring we eat well and get enough sleep, we spend time developing and learning, backing away from things that are likely to cause us pain. Then many of us ‘grow-up' and break free from those who raised us. We are no longer so careful about what we eat or how long we sleep, we begrudgingly continue learning or some shun education altogether. We are enticed by things which may or may not provide a short-term amusement but will definitely harm us in the long term. But the loop closes up.  

We come to the realisation that true maturity is acknowledging that life is designed to be lived in community, reliant on those around us. 

As we move away from the excitement and poorly judged choices we associated with maturity, we realise that we do, in fact, want to spend time with those who care and cared for us. We seek their wise counsel rather than avoiding it. We come to the realisation that true maturity is acknowledging that life is designed to be lived in community, reliant on those around us. And most crucially – asking for help isn’t childish but the most mature thing of all. 

We start to want to care for our bodies. The idea of a hangover is repulsive and to be avoided at all costs, rather than a necessary penance for a fun night with friends. We want to invest in our growth and development in all the ways; emotional, mental, academic and spiritual. We start to self-impose the restrictions that we railed against in our youth. The idea of a 10pm bedtime is absolute bliss and events that start at 9pm are abhorrent. 

By Maddie’s metrics, I grew up at 15, but by mine, I was 25. It wasn’t until then that I started asking myself questions about the person I wanted to be – not the one I thought others wanted of me. This is when I walked into a church and when I decided that really understanding what I believed was important. It’s also when I started letting thoughtful people speak into my life rather than being convinced that I knew better. 

Despite being a decade on from that period of inviting in development and support, I still can’t be certain I’m done growing up, but I wonder if acknowledging that truth is its own form of maturity. From time to time, I get behind the wheel of a car from time to time and think: “Does anyone know I’m doing this unsupervised?” And when I babysit young children, I half expect a real grown up to come over and relieve me of the responsibility, telling me I’ve done a good job but they’ll take it from here. I asked a woman in her 70s when she finally knew she was an adult, she replied:  

“I don’t know if anyone truly considers themselves grown up.” 

The film perfectly illustrates our rush to mature, our societies’ obsession with collecting milestones and experiences and our warped idea of what adulthood should look like. But when I reflect on the maturing process, all I can conclude is that the more we grow in childlike awe, wonder and accepting of our limitations – the more mature we become. 

Film & TV
5 min read

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: 20 years on

Memory and the meaning of suffering.

Beatrice writes on literature, religion, the arts, and the family. Her published work can be found here

A coupe sit on outdoor steps against a blue sky. One holds a plate and the other looks towards them.
Carrey and Winslet as Joel and Clementine.

Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out in 2004. Twenty years on, its stubborn insistence that the memory of pain gives meaning to our lives is as relevant as ever.  

I first watched Gondry’s cult classic earlier this year, in the midst of recovering from postnatal PTSD. When we are faced with heartbreak, it can be easy to wish that we could retreat from painful memories, hiding them away until the initial pang has seemingly died down. That was my experience, at least. But I quickly learnt that the traumatic memory of my daughter’s birth would continue to resurface until I processed it and accepted it as part of my life. Just so, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind teaches us that being vulnerable to suffering is a gift, that suffering itself is necessary to our moral growth, and that our ability to remember the past is an invaluable faculty of the human mind.  

The film begins simply, with a meeting between its protagonists, Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski. As Joel and Clementine start making small talk, they seem immediately comfortable, almost familiar with each other, and yet the atmosphere is eerie. Soon enough, we discover that Clementine was a patient at Lacuna, a clinic which erased every memory of Joel from her mind after their two-year relationship ended in a painful breakup. When Joel finds out, he asks Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, the director of Lacuna, to do the same for him. As viewers, we now start to wonder: was that meeting we witnessed their very first, or have they met again after their memories were erased, unaware that they loved each other in a ‘past’ life? 

This tone of disorientation continues throughout the film, and that’s what makes it so special. As Joel’s memories of Clementine are erased one by one, he realises that the removal of one’s painful experiences is in itself a kind of trauma; what promises to be a relief, turns out to be nothing more than loss.  

We experience this sense of disorientation and loss alongside Joel as we jump through snippets of his and Clementine’s happiest and saddest moments together, trying to piece together in our minds a linear narrative of their relationship. While this is happening, the film’s subplot focuses on Stan, Patrick, and Mary, three young people working for Lacuna. As Stan and Patrick, the ‘technicians’, work on Joel’s memory removal, Mary, Lacuna’s naive receptionist, muses on the beauty of their mission. She begins quoting aloud the passage of poetry which inspires the film’s very title, taken from Alexander Pope’s verse epistle Eloisa to Abelard (1717): 

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! 

The world forgetting, by the world forgot. 

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! 

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d. 

Mary has an idealistic vision of her work: she believes she is helping suffering people experience the kind of ‘eternal sunshine’ that only a ‘spotless mind’ can achieve. But the human mind is not so simple. Joel’s desire for forgetfulness quickly turns nightmarish. As he realises he has made a mistake, he starts fighting to retain the memory of his love for Clementine, but his is a hopeless quest. Dr. Mierzwiak’s intervention ensures that the procedure is completed.  

Left alone without Stan and Patrick, Mary confesses to the married Dr. Mierzwiak that she is in love with him. It is at this point that her idealism crumbles down. He reveals that they’ve already had an affair in the past and that she agreed to let him erase its memory from her mind. Mary is devastated. She decides that what Lacuna is doing is unethical - even if Mierzwiak technically has the patients’ consent to the procedure - and releases the clinic’s files back to the patients. It is this decision which leads Clementine and Joel, just a few days after they ‘meet’ again, to discover that they’ve already loved each other in the past.  

Accepting suffering and holding it in our hearts, not with bitterness, but rather with courage, requires endless patience and infinite hope. 

Although the script of the film doesn’t spell it out, Mary’s story emphasises that the absence of painful memories is in itself experienced as a painful loss. What’s more, it shows that, without the memory of the suffering which we have inflicted on others, and which others have inflicted on us, we are incapable of moral growth. Thanks to the knowledge of the past, Mary is able, this time around, to resist having an affair with a married man. Just so, the final scene of the film, which sees Joel and Clementine vow to renew their relationship, is hopeful not in spite of the fact that they have regained the memory of the ways in which they hurt each other in the past, but precisely because of it.  

Accepting suffering and holding it in our hearts, not with bitterness, but rather with courage, requires endless patience and infinite hope. But that is what we were made for. Each one of us is called to endure pain in imitation of Christ, and, out of that pain, to discover a greater capacity for sacrificial love. We make meaning out of pain: that’s what human beings do.  

The very last lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind perfectly express the fruits of this Christ-like acceptance. As Joel reassures Clementine that he can’t see anything he doesn’t like about her, she expresses her doubts and anxieties: ‘But you will! But you will.’, she repeats, ‘You know, you will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.’ Joel and Clementine look at each other, and, after a pause, they simply say to each other: ‘Okay’. Their ‘okay’ is not an indication that they are doomed to repeat old mistakes. Rather, it signals a new choice: this time, when their relationship becomes difficult, they won’t just run away; this time, they will face discomfort, heartbreak, and disappointment, armed with the knowledge that seeking a sense of permanence by loving another person completely is an inherently valuable pursuit. In accepting the most traumatic parts of our past we grow closer to God; and in bravely deciding to look ahead to the future with hope, we catch a glimpse of the unadulterated joy which we will finally experience in God’s eternity.