Friday, September 2, 2011

Fiction Fridays: Amnesia in Pop Culture

I'm starting a new weekly post on my blog - Fiction Fridays! From now on, I will post something relating to my fiction on Fridays. This month, posts will be about Finding Fiona. The novella will hopefully be released the third week of September, and these posts will get you ready for it!

This week: Amnesia in Pop Culture.

Fiona has retrograde amnesia, meaning she can't remember her past. She remembers bits and pieces of memories. Certain things stand out to her, like the name Fiona or Indian food. She can recognize places, like New York City, or faces, like the guy she meets in chapter one. The story follows Fiona as she tries to remember what happened to her the day she was found on the harbor with stab wounds in her stomach.

Amnesia, unfortunately, is a trick that's been done quite often in books, movies, and comic books. Many times, the writers will just throw in amnesia when they want to hide something from the viewers and have a plausible reason to do so.

Here are some instances of amnesia in pop culture, whether fake, trauma-induced, magical, or brought on by a small gadget.

Jason Bourne
The Basics: Robert Ludlum's Bourne Trilogy was adapted for screen in 2002. In The Bourne Identity, the first in the trilogy, Jason Bourne searches for his true identity while running from various groups that are trying to kill him. While in the books Bourne regains most of his memory, in the movies, Bourne struggles the entire series with the amnesia. He has still kept his training as an assassin and his sharp wits, but he has difficulty remembering where he grew up and what kinds of things he did for the CIA. Usually in the movies, he remembers things just when the plot couldn't go any longer without the information the memory holds.

Rating on the Realism Scale: 1 being "this would never happen" and 10 being "best representation of amnesia ever", Jason Bourne rates at a 4. (To be honest, this is kind of where Fiona is, but just how the Bourne movies are so well-written, you don't care. . .it's the same thing with Finding Fiona. I hope.)

The Basics: Claire is a pregnant woman who crashed on the island with the rest of the survivors. In the first season, she vanishes for almost two weeks. When she returns, she doesn't remember anything that happened on the island, especially not who kidnapped her or why. Like Fiona, she reads an old diary of hers to try to remember the past couple weeks of her life. She slowly regains her memories in season three through hypnosis and revisiting places where her kidnapper left her.

Rating on the Realism Scale: Perhaps the most realistic plot device used by Lost. Though blocking traumatic memories isn't common by any means, it's more common than losing every memory you've ever had, like Bourne. Lost and Claire get a 6.

The Basics: Push was a science fiction thriller movie, and I feel like I'm the only person who liked it. I thought it was fascinating, and one of the many special classes of people are "Wipers." As you may assume, they can wipe memories. The main character does this to himself so the enemies can't figure out their secret plan.

Rating on the Realism Scale: -5.

Men In Black
The Basics: The agency of alien hunters maintains their secrecy chiefly through the neuralyzer, which conveniently wipes the memories of those who come into contact with the men in black or aliens. It's even used on old agents once they retire. The men in black used it about a dozen times in the movie, at one point wiping the memories of the entire city of New York. Like I said, how convenient.

Rating on the Realism Scale: -100.

While You Were Sleeping
The Basics: This isn't actually a real case of amnesia. Sandra Bullock plays in this romantic comedy and she saves a man from an oncoming train. Through a strange series of events, his family starts to think she's his fiance, and when he wakes up from a coma, he obviously doesn't remember her. They blame it on amnesia. (I used to have this movie on VHS and I watched it all the time. This and Forces of Nature were why Sandra Bullock was my favorite actress.)

Rating on the Realism Scale: 7. If you're one who can carry out a lie as long as a protagonist in a romantic comedy.

Harry Potter
The Basics: Obliviate. The spell that can erase memories in the Harry Potter world. Gilderoy Lockhart is quite an expert with them, having used them for years to take other people's achievements and pass them off as his own. When he tries to memory charm Ron with Ron's broken wand, the spell backfires. Lockhart loses his memory - all of it. He spends the rest of his life in St. Mungo's.

Rating on the Realism Scale: -10. Don't ask why this is more realistic than the neuralizer. It just is.

The Basics: In the Halloween episode of season two, Dean Pelton gets food for the Halloween party at Greendale Community College from the Army surplus store. They soon find out this food had some kind of disease or, well, I don't really remember because I can't find the episode online. POINT IS, everyone starts to turn into zombies, and the disease spreads through biting. Someone has the theory that lowering the thermostat would save everyone, and Troy is the first black man to make it to the end and save everyone. But not before the government shows up looking a lot like Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in suits and sunglasses and-you guessed it-their very own neuralizer. But Troy doesn't escape the knowledge that Shirley and Change hooked up, as seen in the video above.

Rating on the Realism Scale: 10. You know the government is covering up zombie breakouts ALL THE TIME. (And don't ask why they got a positive rating when MIB didn't. This is MY blog!)

There is also anterograde amnesia, which is the inability to create new memories. It's used much less often.
50 First Dates
The Basics: In this comedy, Adam Sandler meets a girl, has a wonderful day with her, falls in love. . .and the next day, she doesn't remember him. Lucy got in a car crash and relives the same day over and over again since her mind is unable to form new memories, but Adam Sandler's character is determined to be with her. He plans different ways to speak to her each day and maybe, just maybe, she has some memory of him after a while. . .

Rating on the Realism Scale: 3. Cute movie, but this is a far cry from true anterograde amnesia (trust me, I'm an expert).

The Basics: A Christopher Nolan film, our protagonist Guy Pierce can't remember anything for more than a few moments. He takes polaroid pictures and takes notes to keep himself in the present. The film takes on a nonlinear structure, following the main character as he tries to keep a struggle on what's happening to him and who the people around him are. You really have no idea what's going on until the end. When Christopher Nolan wins everything.

Rating on the Realism Scale: Apparently scientists loved the portrayal of anterograde amnesia in this movie. 10.

I know I missed many. What are your favorite amnesia-stricken characters in movies, books, and TV shows?

NOTE: I wanted to add Wolverine, but I couldn't decipher the movie plot from the comic books. I didn't want to sort through the thousands of plot lines in comic books (wikipedia wasn't enough) or offend someone by using the movie plot (which I know) when the comic book one was a lot cooler or something. Long story short: Wolverine required too much research for a blog post such as this. If someone wants to explain THE BASICS to me, go right ahead.

Also see: This article at BMJ, written by a guy who does way more research than I.

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