The Long Island University Brooklyn Campus Library Media Center Newsletter 


We love movies, among other things.

Summer 2009, issue 46
[Uh, yeah.  June kind of slipped my mind.]

"I woke up in a Soho doorway/The policeman knew my name"
-- from "Who are You" by the Who, lyrics by Pete Townshend

The Ol' Coconut Effect:
Amnesia in the Movies

You know the scene:  A few people gathered around a body prone in the corner.  They gently bring him to, with a wet cloth, some pats to the cheeks. He blinks, winces, touches his head.  Oh, what hit me?  Blinks again as he looks from face to face in front of him.  Who are you?  Sits up, looks around the room.  Where am I? 

Who am I?

Amnesia in the movies -- because I watched too many episodes of Gilligan's Island when I was a kid, I always associate amnesia (and the cure thereof) with getting bonked on the melon by a falling coconut.  Or is it bonked on the coconut by a falling melon?  Anyway, if I only could've gotten past that one hangup, I'd have gotten into medical school, I just know it.  [There you have it, kids, too much TV will rot your brains. [Aw, you know I don't believe that!]]

Most of the time, of course, amnesia in the movies is nowhere close to medical or scientific fact, but is as artificial a plot device as a long lost twin, an evil hypnotist, a brain transplant, a time machine, a magic ring, or a love potion.  But that doesn't make it any less fun.

Film noir seems especially fond of the amnesiac plot device, examples including Somewhere in the Night, The Blue Gardenia, In a Lonely Place, and Spellbound, as well as neo-noirs like Memento, Dead Again, and Mulholland Drive.

In science fiction, memory issues arise in the noirish Dark City, Total Recall, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  And even in Men in Black's neuralyzer, which the government uses to erase memories of extraterrestrial encounters in the general population.  

Amnesia is a versatile plot device, effective also in comedies like The Addams Family, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and Desperately Seeking Susan.

In a raucous comic twist on a common noir device - the poor sap or lost woman who had too much to drink last night and can't remember how that corpse got in the house - The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, from screwball mastermind Preston Sturges, deals with the patriotic Trudy Kockenlocker, who had a little too much to drink at the farewell party for Morgan's Creek servicemen.  She slept with somebody and is pregnant, and she has no idea who the father is.  Straightforward and bawdy, it's still kind of hard to believe this movie got made when it did!  

Some more, miscellaneous examples: The Long Kiss Goodnight is a rollicking spy/adventure amnesia flick.  Sundays and Cybele is a postwar tearjerker amnesia film.  Last Year at Marienbad is an inscrutable and arty piece of amnesiac cineama.  The Return of Martin Guerre is also continental and mysterious. 

Hey, that's a lot of amnesia.  What was I talking about again?  And where did I put my damn keys?  What was your name again?  Oh, my name is not Lyle, and I am not your personal shopper and houseboy! 

"Wait! What was I doing on Mars?" -- Douglass Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Total Recall (1990).


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This issue of  BCLMC is brought to you all the way from the back row by absent-minded Media Assistant Patrick Jewell.  Tell your friends. 



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Questions?  Comments?  Contact us. 
Media Center Staff:
Patrick Jewell,  Media Assistant  (718) 488-3392
Lisa Rivera,  Media Assistant  (718) 780-4378