Memory phenomena in popular culture  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Memory phenomena are rich sources of storylines and novel situations in popular culture. Two phenomena that appear regularly are total recall abilities and amnesia.

Total recall

The Argentinean author, Jorge Luis Borges wrote the short story Funes the Memorious in 1944. It depicts the life of Ireneo Funes, a fictional character who falls off his horse and experiences a head injury. After this accident, Funes has total recall abilities. He is said to recall an entire day with no mistakes, but this feat of recall takes him an entire day to accomplish. It is said that Borges was ahead of his time in his description of memory processes in this story, as it was not until the 1950s and research on the patient HM that some of what the author describes began to be understood. A more recent instance of total recall in literature is found in Dan Brown’s books The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, in which the main character, Dr. Robert Langdon, a religious iconography and symbology professor at Harvard University, has almost total recall ability. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, the main character, Christopher Boone, is a 15-year old autistic boy with total recall abilities.

Total recall is popular in television. It can be seen in Season 4 of the television show "Criminal Minds", in which the character Dr. Spencer Reid claims to have total recall ability. Agent Fox Mulder from the television show "The X-Files" has a photographic memory, a popular term for total recall. Also, the character of hospital resident Lexie Grey on the television show "Grey’s Anatomy" has total recall ability.


Amnesia the damage or disruption of memory processes is a very popular subject in movies since 1915. Although its portrayal is usually inaccurate, there are some exceptions. Memento (2003) is said to be inspired by the condition of the famous amnesic patient known as HM. The main character Leonard suffers from anterograde amnesia after a traumatic attack in which his wife dies. He maintains his identity and shows very little retrograde amnesia. He also displays some of the daily memory problems that are experiences by most amnesics, such as forgetting names or where he is going. Another fairly accurate portrayal of memory disturbances is the non-human character Dory in Finding Nemo (2003). This fish, like Leonard, shows memory problems faced by most amnesics where she forgets names, has difficulty storing and recalling information, and often forgets what she is doing, or why she is doing something.

Movies tend to show amnesia as a result of head injury from accidents or attacks. The loss of identity and autobiographical memory shown in Santa Who? (2000) in which Santa suffers from amnesia that destroys his identity and memory of himself is very unlikely in the real world. This is also portrayed in The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) where the main character forgets he is a trained assassin. Another misrepresentation of the reality of memory loss in the movies can be seen in Clean Slate (1994) and 50 First Dates (2004) where the characters are able to encode memory during the day but lose all memory of that day at night, while sleeping.

Movies often restore victim’s memory through a second trauma, or through a kind of cued recall when they revisit familiar places or see familiar objects. The phenomenon of the second trauma can be seen in Singing in the Dark (1956) where the victim experiences the onset of amnesia because of the trauma of the Holocaust, but memory is restored with a blow to the head. Although neurosurgery is often the cause of amnesia, it is seen as a solution in some movies, including Deluxe Annie (1918) and Rascals (1938).

Memory erasure is portrayed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and in the Men in Black movies. Men in Black features a device to erase the potentially harmful memories of extraterrestrial interactions in members of the general public. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind describes a process that targets and erases memories of interpersonal relationships the patients would rather forget so that they are no longer able to recall the experience. In Paycheck (2003) and Total Recall (1990) memory suppression is used to control and the characters are able to overcome the attempts and recall pieces of their memory.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Memory phenomena in popular culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools