Movies often borrow themes from psychology and neuroscience, although only a few have the compliment returned by scientists in the field. Two recent films however, have sparked engaging commentaries from a number of scientists, owing to their accurate depiction of brain function.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was praised by Kirk Jobsluder for eschewing the clich√©s of a linear ‘videotape’ memory, and Steven Johnson for accurately capturing the role of emotion in memory.
Johnson’s article also touches on another highly regarded film, Memento, but is surprisingly critical, despite the lead character displaying almost identical memory problems to famous cases in the medical literature. One of the most notable is Patient HM, although there are several well-known cases with similar impairments.
Rashmi Sinha further discusses the influences of clinical neuroscence in Memento with some insightful comments, but my favourite has got to be this wonderfully geeky review from a team at Rutgers University:
Unlike patient HM, Shelby acquired his anterograde amnesia through an accidental brain injury. This does happen, but it’s much more common for people to develop anterograde amnesia from a stroke, viral encephalitis, chronic epilepsy, or the interruption of the brain’s oxygen supply due to near-drowning or strangulation (hypoxia or anoxia).
Nevertheless, the prize for the most popcorn consumed in the service of science undoubtedly goes to neuropsychologist Sallie Baxendale, for her comprehensive reviews of movies about epilepsy and amnesia. Surprisingly, animated movie Finding Nemo is rated as a particularly accurate portrayal of amnesia.
Personally, I’m a big fan of The Man with Two Brains, but I think that’s just wishful thinking.
Spare popcorn ? Check out some videos from PBS on amnesic patients EP and ‘Chuck’, and the neuroscience of memory.