This weekend a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci fi favorite Total Recall hits screens with Colin Farrell replacing the Governator. Unlike the original, Farrell is more mental than muscles, but like its predecessor it is a story about memories, some real, some implanted. The movie asks the question, Is anything real, or are we watching the memory Farrell ordered?
Memory is an intangible, a mental process to attain, amass, remember and retrieve information. Not exactly the most cinematic subject, but nonetheless filmmakers have used memory as the backbone for movies for decades.
Most memory movies use amnesia as a starting point. The loss of memory propels the plot of the Hitchcock classic Spellbound. Gregory Peck plays a man whose guilt at the death of his younger brother causes amnesia. The movie broke box office records when it opened but Hitchcock dismissed it as “just another manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.”
Who could forget Matt Damon as one of the most popular (and violent) amnesiacs of recent years? In the Bourne Identity he is Jason Bourne, a CIA operative who loses his memory while on a mission. As he tries to regain his memory, he discovers he has a unique and deadly skill set. As he brings his past into focus, he doesn’t like what he discovers. “Everything I found out,” her says, “I want to forget.”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind presented a different take on memory loss. In this strange and romantic Jim Carrey (he also once played an amnesic in The Majestic) movie people pay to have painful memories erased from their minds.
Short-term memory loss has provided the backdrop for comedies like the world’s only brain-damage-rom-com, 50 First Dates—Adam Sandler woos Drew Barrymore even tough she forgets who he is everyday—and complex thrillers like Memento.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, Memento stars Guy Pearce as a man with short-term memory loss, who uses notes and tattoos to hunt the person he’s convinced killed his wife. “Facts, not memories,” he says, “that’s how you investigate.” This brain-teasing film is deliberately disorienting and cannot be forgotten once seen.
Finally, two romantic and sad movies explore Alzheimer’s disease. The Notebook pairs James Garner and Gena Rowland in a heartbreaking study of love and memory loss while Away From Her sees Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent long term marriage torn apart by the disease.
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