Does Memory Make Us Who We Are?

It’s difficult to imagine losing some or all of your memories. Your beloved ones are now strangers. You were maybe a bad person in your past, but now it’s the opposite. The words “real” and “unreal” have lost their meaning. When thinking about all these and how they apply to people we know and love who are suffering from dementia, the inevitable question comes up, how significant is our memory in making us who we are? Many filmmakers have explored the themes of memory and identity to tell stories that vary in tone and emotions.  Here are some of my favorite movies that uniquely study this topic (summaries taken from

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

A man, Joel Barish, heartbroken that his girlfriend Clementine underwent a procedure to erase him from her memory, decides to do the same. However, as he watches his memories of her fade away, he realizes that he still loves her, and may be too late to correct his mistake.

Memento (2000)

Memento chronicles two separate stories of Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories, as he attempts to find the murderer of his wife, which is the last thing he remembers. One story line moves forward in time while the other tells the story backwards revealing more each time.

Still Alice (2014)

Alice Howland is a renowned linguistics professor happily married with three grown children. All that begins to change when she strangely starts to forget words and then more. When her doctor diagnoses her with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family’s lives face a harrowing challenge as this terminal degenerative neurological ailment slowly progresses to an inevitable conclusion they all dread. Along the way, Alice struggles to not only to fight the inner decay, but to make the most of her remaining time to find the love and peace to make simply living worthwhile.

Spellbound (1945)

The head of the Green Manors mental asylum Dr. Murchison is retiring to be replaced by Dr. Edwardes, a famous psychiatrist. Edwardes arrives and is immediately attracted to the beautiful but cold Dr. Constance Petersen. However, it soon becomes apparent that Dr. Edwardes is in fact a paranoid amnesiac impostor. He goes on the run with Constance who tries to help his condition and solve the mystery of what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes.

The Bourne Series (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012, 2016)

Bourne’ films center around the character of Jason Bourne a man who suffers from memory loss and needs to discover his true identity. He eventually discovers that he is a CIA assassin who failed to complete his recent mission and with the help of a woman he learns about his past actions, memory loss and gets a complete picture of the story. 


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