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Amnesia is a mental condition that is characterized by memory loss. The condition is caused by many factors, including brain injuries and dementia (Butler & Zeman, 2011). The effects of amnesia are illustrated in a film titled the 50 First Dates that was released in 2004. The film was written by George Wing and directed by Peter Segal. The main characters in the film are Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. Barrymore features as Lucy Whitmore whereas Sandler is called Henry Roth in the film. Barrymore is represented as a woman that has been suffering from amnesia while Sandler is a veterinarian who seeks to have a love relationship with her (Segal, 2004). In this paper, the case of Barrymore is used to show how amnesia affects memory. Barrymore suffers from anterograde amnesia, although based on the analysis of the condition using scholarly sources, there are some parts of the film that are incorrect.
Henry is a veterinarian who has a reputation for having poor relationships with women. While sailing, his boat breaks down near Hawaii and thus, he goes to a nearby café to wait for a coast guard. While in the café, he meets Lucy who works as an art teacher. They have a good time and feel that they can make up a close, intimate relationship. They plan to meet the following day. Henry moves away and comes back the next day (Segal, 2004). He meets Lucy again in the café. He is surprised to realize that Lucy does not remember meeting him ever before. The café owner informs Henry that Lucy had an accident sometimes back that caused her to develop amnesia. Consequently, she only remembers things that happen within one day (Segal, 2004). After sleeping, her memory goes back to October 13 the past year, when she had an accident.
Lucy’s father and brother spend a lot of time with her showing her newspapers, movies and other things meant to interrupt her so that she stops concentrating on the day that she had an accident. They argue that she ought not to know about the accident since it led to the death of her mother and thus, she might suffer more due to stress. At the same time, Henry believes that he will eventually establish an intimate relationship with Lucy (Segal, 2004). Consequently, he visits her many times despite the fact that Lucy’s father and brother advise him against the move. Even after coming back many times, Lucy does not remember Henry. One day, Lucy discovers the truth about what happened after she engages in an argument with a police officer (Segal, 2004). She insists that her plates have not expired since it is October 13, 2002, but learns that she is wrong after she is presented with newspaper for the day.
When Lucy’s father and brother and Henry determine that she has realized the truth, they decide not to hide it anymore. Consequently, they create a movie showing her about her life since the accident. The video is presented to her every morning. Henry and Lucy meet many times afterward, but she recognizes the meetings as first dates (Segal, 2004). Henry believes that one day, she will recognize him. One day, she hears Henry talking about his plan to cancel the trip in order to spend time with her and reacts negatively by rejecting him. Henry is informed that Lucy recognizes him in a dream and thus, he realizes that she loves him (Segal, 2004). One day, Lucy wakes up and watches a video showing with details about her life. She cries as she realizes how she has been living since to time she got an accident, until her wedding with Henry. In the end, she finds herself with Martin, her daughter, and Henry.
Remarkably, Barrymore (Lucy) depicts symptoms of amnesia. As Butler and Zeman (2011) explain, there are many types of amnesia, including transient global amnesia, infantile amnesia, anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia. People with retrograde amnesia develop new memories on top of the existing ones. However, both the new and the old memories are erased slowly. The new memories are erased more quickly relative to the old memories (Butler & Zeman, 2011). Such mental conditions are common among old people suffering from dementia. Dewar et al. (2010) explained that people suffering from anterograde amnesia do not develop new memories and if they do, they last for a very short time. For instance, the memories developed can last for seconds or hours, after which they are erased. According to Midorikawa and Kawamura (2008), the problem can last for a short time, such as when a person is drunk and can last for a long time. In some cases, it can last throughout an individual’s life. Anterograde amnesia usually lasts for long if hippocampus in the brains is damaged. Hippocampus contributes to the formation and storage of memory. The damage can be caused by injury or other factors.
Transient global amnesia is not well understood. People that develop the condition usually experience agitation and confusion that come and goes frequently. The problem recurs after a few hours Butler and Zeman (2011). Before the attack, a person might experience memory loss. After the attack, the person may not have experience of any memory about what had happened several hours before the attack. Butler and Zeman (2011) explain that the condition is usually caused by seizure-like activities. Infantile amnesia entails the inability to remember childhood memories until the age of six years and above. According to Butler and Zeman (2011), amnesia can be caused by anoxia, a condition that is characterized by the depletion of oxygen in the brain. The depletion can halt brain activities leading to memory loss. In addition to the hippocampus, injuries on other parts of the brain that facilitate memory storage and retrieval can lead to amnesia. Illnesses such as infection, tumor, and stroke can cause amnesia (Butler & Zeman, 2011). Other potential causal factors include stress, trauma, alcohol use and Electroconvulsive therapy.
Based on the description given by Dewar et al. (2010), Barrymore is suffering from anterograde amnesia considering that she is unable to form new memories. Her new memories last for one day and are erased when she goes to sleep. Probably, the accident she encountered led to the damage of hippocampus in her brain. As a result, she is able to gather new memories. Due to the damage on the hippocampus, however, she is unable to retrieve her new memories. The new memories might be stored in her brains for long, which is evidenced by the fact that she dreams about Henry. The problem with her is the inability to retrieve them. Barrymore might last throughout her life if her hippocampus is irreparable, as Midorikawa and Kawamura (2008) explain. If it is repaired, however, her current condition can come to an end.
Realistic and Unrealistic Aspects of the Film
Based on the assessment of amnesia, the film consists of both realistic and unrealistic aspects. The first unrealistic aspect relates to the attention and support given to Barrymore by her brother and father. The two spend their full time every day providing support to Barrymore while using different tricks in order to prevent her from remembering the incident that led to her condition (Segal, 2004). The fact that the brother and father stop all other activities to devote their lives to Barrymore is unrealistic since such patients rarely get such luxury. Second, Barrymore has anterograde amnesia, yet she is regarded in the film as having “Goldfield’s Syndrome,” which does not exist as a type of amnesia. The director and auditor should have used the correct words.
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Despite this, there are many realistic aspects of the film. The most remarkable aspect is the fact that Barrymore develops new memories that last only for one day and she does not remember them after sleeping. Her experience fits the description of anterograde amnesia given by Dewar et al. (2010) and Midorikawa and Kawamura (2008). She is able to encode new memories and to store them. However, she is unable to retrieve them. Further, Barrymore only remembers the memories that were stored before the accident in which she was involved. To that extent, her condition perfectly fits that traits associated with anterograde amnesia. Another notable reality in the film is that people that are suffering from severe anterograde amnesia live under care in the hospitals. As Dewar et al. (2010) explained, patients with severe amnesia need to live in health care settings where they can be protected and closely monitored. Persons whose memory lasts for second or minutes, for instance, fall under that category. Last, the fact that Lucy sees Henry in dreams in the film confirms that people with anterograde amnesia store information in their brains but are unable to retrieve it.
In the film, therefore, I would make two changes to make it better. First, I would reduce the attention and support given to Barrymore by her father and brother. Second, I would replace the reference of Barrymore as having “Goldfield’s Syndrome” with anterograde amnesia. The memory system portrayed in the film is the procedural memory. The procedural memory entails using implicit things to do things that do not require conscious recall, such as driving, swimming and riding a bike (Arden & Linford, 2008). Despite having lost her memory, Barrymore carries out daily duties as usual. For instance, she remembers how to put a video tape on a reader and watch. Also, she remembers how to write.
The relevant Scholarship
Evidence derived from the previous studies has shown that persons with moderate to severe anterograde amnesia lack the ability to reliably form new memories. A complete memory process involves acquisition storage and retrieval of information. Individuals suffering from the condition acquire information and store it, but the ability to retrieve it is impaired. As such, the challenge faced by such persons is the inability to recall recent events (Svoboda & Richards, 2009). The studies have shown that the implicit memory is usually preserved, and it provides avenue for gaining new skills that are utilized unconsciously, such as swimming. The studies have shown that it is possible for people that have not attained the old age that are suffering from anterograde amnesia to recover naturally. The studies have shown that the emerging technological devices, such as smartphones, can help persons with anterograde amnesia to develop new skills despite the loss of memory. However, it is not known how anterograde amnesia can be treated. No drug or surgery has been developed for treating the condition (Svoboda & Richards, 2009). The problem can only be resolved through the use of other memory capabilities of the affected persons.
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Overall, Barrymore, in 50 First Dates, suffers from anterograde amnesia. The condition affects her ability to remember new things for long, but she is able to retrieve old memories before she got an accident. Her condition fits the descriptions of anterograde amnesia described by different scholars. Despite this, the film has a few aspects that do not represent the reality. Unfortunately, there is no drug or surgery that can help to treat her problem.
- Arden, J. B., & Linford, L. (2008). Brain-Based Therapy with Adults: Evidence-Based Treatment for Everyday Practice. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Butler, C. R., & Zeman, A. (2011). The causes and consequences of transient epileptic amnesia. Behavioural Neurology, 24(4), 299-305.
- Dewar, M., Sala, S. D., Beschin, N., & and Cowan, N. (2010). Profound Retroactive Interference in Anterograde Amnesia: What interferes? Neuropsychology, 24(3): 357–367.
- Midorikawa, A. & Kawamura, M. (2008). Recovery of Long-Term Anterograde Amnesia, but Not Retrograde Amnesia, after Initiation of an Anti-Epileptic Drug in a Case of Transient Epileptic Amnesia. The Neural Basis of Cognition, 13(5-6), 385-389.
- Segal, P. (Director). (2004). 50 First Dates. Sony Pictures.
- Svoboda, E., & Richards, B. (2009). Compensating for anterograde amnesia: A new training method that capitalizes on emerging smartphone technologies. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 15(4), 629-638.