Meet Me in Montauk: How a Film Inspired a Novel Almost Twenty Years Later, a guest post by Sarah Lyu
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my all-time favorite movies. For the uninitiated, the two main characters of Eternal Sunshine, Joel and Clementine, erase one another from their memories after a traumatic break up only to find themselves back together where they first met, Montauk. One of the many brilliant aspects of the movie is the multiple ways it can be interpreted. For instance, I’ve always chosen to see the ending as hopeful, that the love Joel and Clementine had for each other was strong enough to overcome even the complete erasure of their memories of one another. This was a huge source of inspiration for my novel, I Will Find You Again, a story about hope and second chances, grief and redemption. It’s about Chase Ohara and Lia Vestiano, childhood best friends who fall in love before falling apart and how they find each other again in the aftermath.
Connected by more than theme, both the film and novel are set on Long Island, and I knew from the beginning that Montauk would play a major role. It’s a place of refuge for Chase and Lia, and when either needed escape from the endless grind of homework, studying, and extracurriculars at their elite high school, they would send each other a text: “Meet me in Montauk.” It’s a refrain from Eternal Sunshine and meaningful to both because it’s also my characters’ favorite movie (side note: giving your characters your favorites so you can talk about them is one of the best perks of being a writer and one I recommend indulging in liberally). Montauk became the place they fell in love, where they shared their first kiss and where they broke each other’s hearts. I loved the beauty of Montauk, particularly in the movie—the bright sunshine on the day Joel and Clem initially meet and the gloomy sky on the day they meet again for the second time.
While working on I Will Find You Again, I was lucky enough to visit Montauk for research, soak it up in person. On the day I took the LIRR out, the weather was perfectly moody, and I could picture Chase and Lia there, walking along the shore, hand in hand.
Beyond the setting, I was also inspired by the screenplay itself and the revisions it underwent before shooting. There’s a scene in the book where Lia discovers the original script, which has a different beginning and ending than the finished film. She and Chase debate the differences and how it changes the meaning of the story. These early drafts by Charlie Kaufman can be found online and comparing them with the published shooting script (see below) is especially interesting from a writer’s perspective. Both Chase and Lia agree that the ending in finished script is more hopeful and ambiguous. That’s the same intention I had for I Will Find You Again, to leave the characters in a place of hope even though readers won’t know exactly what happens to them.
To me, the film’s ending is a masterpiece. The last word from Joel, “Okay,” is echoed by Clem as the final word in the film. This is the ultimate acknowledgement and acceptance of the imperfection within all relationships. Right before this moment, the two of them are arguing about whether it’s worth it to try again when they know it once ended in disaster already, and this simple, one-word answer is Joel’s way of embracing all the bad with the good—a show of faith in the love between them. In the climax of I Will Find You Again, it’s Chase’s love for Lia that ultimately saves her, and it’s her acceptance of all the parts of herself, the light and the dark, that keeps her afloat.
I first watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind almost twenty years ago, and I’ve rewatched it countless times since. My understanding and appreciation of the film has grown with me, and I love that it’s provided such comfort and inspiration all these years later.
Meet the author
Sarah Lyu is the author of The Best Lies and the upcoming I Will Find You Again, both young adult novels about love and loss, trauma and madness. She likes the color cerulean blue, all dogs and most cats, moody forest hikes, painting dramatic skies, the scent of the ocean, and writing stories that make people cry. You can visit her at sarahlyu.com.
About I Will Find You Again
All the Bright Places meets Ace of Spades in this smart, twisty teen thriller about a girl who can’t stop pushing herself to be the best—even after losing her best friend and the love of her life.
Welcome to Meadowlark, Long Island—expensive homes and good schools, ambition and loneliness. Meet Chase Ohara and Lia Vestiano: the driven overachiever and the impulsive wanderer, the future CEO and the free spirit. Best friends for years—weekend trips to Montauk, sleepovers on a yacht—and then, first love. True love.
But when Lia disappears, Chase’s life turns into a series of grim snapshots. Anger. Grief. Running. Pink pills in an Altoids tin. A cheating ring at school. Heartbreak and lies. A catastrophic secret.
And the shocking truth that will change everything about the way Chase sees Lia—and herself.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 03/14/2023
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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