How Amnesia Works

Amnesia in Pop Culture
Anna Anderson claimed that she was Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Anna Anderson claimed that she was Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Hollywood loves leading characters with amnesia. Since the days of silent film, attractive stars have hit their head, fallen unconscious and woken up with no memory of their life or identity. Later -- usually after discovering a newfound appreciation for life -- they're hit on the head again and the amnesia is cured. It's an entertaining scenario, but nearly impossible. Although some scripts are more realistic than others, comedies, thrillers and action movies have used amnesia as a plot device. The following recent popular films provide a sampling of Hollywood's love affair with memory loss:

  • "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
  • "Mulholland Dr."
  • "Memento"
  • "Vanilla Sky"
  • The Bourne Trilogy

Aside from film, the amnesia theme constantly pops up in popular culture. Sudden cases of amnesia are classic soap opera fodder. On the more intellectual end of the cultural spectrum, authors including Charles Dickens (in "A Tale of Two Cities") have worked amnesia into their novels. Even rock band Radiohead called their 2001 album "Amnesiac." Book critic for Time magazine, Lev Grossman, describes Americans' cultural obsession with amnesia as a "national tradition" [source: Grossman]. He says the concept of the American dream is based on a metaphorical amnesia in which people leave behind their former lives to achieve success.

Maybe it's the mystery of amnesia that makes it appealing to watch and read about. Memory is our only personal record of the past and of who we are as individuals. In this way, it links our pasts to our futures. But while erasing your history may seem appealing, true cases of amnesia prove that starting over in the brain is a delicate, complicated process. To read more about mind and memory, check out the links on the next page.

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