When we define memory we see it as an individual’s ability to store, retain and recall information. Though there have been many films which have chronicled the struggles of various individuals with amnesia. One of the most remarkable films which portray the main character suffering from Anterograde Amnesia is the movie “Memento”. This topic will attempt to answer whether this film accurately depicts the condition of Anterograde Amnesia and whether it reflects the current understanding of this condition in our society.
The movie Memento follows the life of an insurance investigator by the name of Leonard Shelby who loses the ability to make new memories after he is struck on the head during a break-in. Leonard’s wife is killed during the break in and the police never manage to find the man who killed her. This forms the main purpose for the films protagonist who despite his condition goes on a personal crusade to find his wife’s killer, a man by the name of John G.
In order to explain his condition Leonard details a case he came across as an insurance agent for his company before his accident where a man known as Sammy Jankis suffered from the same condition of Anterograde Amnesia. Due to his limited understanding of the condition Leonard wrote down Sammy’s condition as being psychological rather than physical. Leonard is only able to function and investigate the murder by tattooing various clues to different parts of his body along with the assistance of a police officer by the name of Teddy (Nolan and Nolan).
Anterograde Amnesia is a physical ailment which depicts the loss of memory which occurs after the event which caused amnesia. This condition can also cause a deficit in attention and inaccurate perception of events. It can be induced in one of two ways. The first which is mentioned above may be due to trauma. The second is drug induced. The method by which this physical change can occur in this condition is due to traumatic brain injury.
In this the individual may have injury to certain parts of the brain such as the cerebral cortex, sub cortical projections, hippocampal formation or the diencephalons in the medial portions of the dorso medial and adjacent midline nuclei of the thalamus. However, there is a lack of a grading system for the categorization of this ailment leaving many doctors and health workers to figure out the extent of the amnesia for themselves (Cantu). In order to diagnose this disorder a wide variety of amnesiac symptoms may be present with several wide variations.
A history is usually taken in order to ascertain the onset of the amnesiac symptoms. The individual may also complain of other symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and no orientation in time and space. A physical examination is done where recent, short and long term memory is tested and neurological testing is also done along with tests to ascertain higher brain functions such as thought process and speech. Tests are then done preferably an MRI or a CT scan in order to diagnose any trauma to the brain along with an EEG to rule out epilepsy (mdguidelines).
In my opinion the disorder in the movie is portrayed in a highly accurate manner especially in the case of showing the tattoos and the Polaroid’s as a way for Leonard to remember and safeguard the details about his wife’s case. The main character uses several tools at his disposal in order to get accomplish his mission. He uses Mnemonics and tattoos them on his body in order to remember important places, times and events. One other condition that the film uses quite effectively without directly referring to it is the creation of false memories.
This is evidenced during the films ending where the character of Teddy tells Leonard how he uses the character of Sammy Jankis in order to cover up his own failings with his wife. The creation of such memories is used by the lead character is used to hide the traumatic and emotional memory of experiencing this condition with his wife. In order to process this memory the main character uses a method known as reconstructive memory where he fills in the missing elements of his distorted memory (III and McDermott).
It also shows accurately the limited understanding of modern medical science in regards to the human mind and how there is no cure or proper diagnostic criteria for this condition which exists today. The film however does show a scene where a layman insurance investigator attempts to ascertain whether one of his clients his lying about the condition by using electrified blocks in an attempt to create a learned response from Mr. Jankis. His subsequent failure in doing so and his disregard and disbelief towards his condition shows the current societal opinion regarding the validity of this disease and the perception of it at large.
One failing that the movie does have however is in the repeated actions of the main character which in fact allow him to learn certain actions through repetition. Although the story’s depiction of the main character of Sammy Jankis is quite accurate in showing that an individual with this form of Anterograde amnesia is unable to learn new skills. The character of Leonard however in this tale does not seem to have this shortcoming and finds himself able to do his everyday tasks with a level of efficiency that is typically not seen in patients with this form of Amnesia.
Diagnostically however the film is honest in saying there is no cure for this condition. As mentioned before even though medical science has an understanding regarding the mechanism of how short term and long term memory works, they do not have a full understanding of how the lesions caused by various traumas can bring about either retrograde or Anterograde amnesia. However, it should be noted that though this film does create some awareness about the difficulties faced by individuals who are suffering from this disease it does not fully encapsulate how the lives of these individuals are truly affected by this condition.
The loss of long term memory development not only leaves them unable to work or even function on their own. It also leaves them a burden to their families as they require a constant level of care twenty four hours a day which some families simply cannot afford to give. Additionally, psychological attitudes towards this condition are not favorable; oftentimes doctors will prescribe benzo diazepines which may actually have caused this condition in the first place. How society and medical science finds it way to better understanding this condition will just have to be seen. Work Cited Cantu, Robert C.
“Posttraumatic Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia: Pathophysiology and Implications in Grading and Safe Return to Play. ” Journal of Atheletic Training Vol 36 Issue 3 (2001): 244-48. III, Henry L. Roediger and Kathleen B. McDermott. “Creating False Memories: Remembering Words Not Present in Lists . ” Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition Vol 21 Issue 4 (1995): 803-814. mdguidelines. Amnesia Diagnosis . 2008. 15 June 2009 <http://www. mdguidelines. com/amnesia/diagnosis>. Memento. By Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Guy Pearce. 2000.