Prosthetic memory – continued

Prosthetic Memory

Bioengineered humans, clones and synthetics

In this chapter, I continue my research into the key concept of prosthetic memory, exploring how it transcends the boundaries of film genres and challenges our understanding of memory and identity. Prosthetic memory, as introduced by the theorist Landsberg, emerges as a new form of memory the meeting of individuals and historical narratives. It takes shape in experiential settings like cinemas and museums, inviting us to reconsider how we interact with the past through these cinematic experiences. I will explore a diverse array of films that exemplify prosthetic memory, reaching beyond the confines of science fiction into genres like horror and spy films. The focus will extend to the concept of clones, which has gained prominence in science fiction cinema, offering a lens through which to examine the intricacies of memory and identity.

Bioengineered humans, such as clones and synthetics, will be a central theme in my exploration. Films like Oblivion (20XX) reveal the complexities of memory in cloned beings, as they grapple with the genetic and prosthetic memories imprinted on their minds. I will argue that the idea that memories, even those encoded in genetics, can be susceptible to contamination and alteration, shedding light on the vulnerability of both individual and inherited memory. I will introduce genetic memory, a concept at the heart of my research into inherited memory which, suggests that certain aspects of identity and knowledge can be inherited through genetics. This notion becomes particularly relevant in the context of science fiction films, where clones possess inherited memories of their original subjects. I will examine the challenges of replicating memories compared to genetic code and explore how genetic memory helps newly created beings’ function with the memories of their predecessors.

My arguments will also venture into the genre of horror films, especially those featuring vampires. Here, the concept of blood memory becomes prominent, highlighting how memories can be passed down through bloodlines and shape the identities of these supernatural creatures. I will discuss how vampire films, such as “Dracula” and “Blade,” reinterpret and expand upon the traditional vampire mythology, expanding the evolution of the genre.

An important introduction of a new memory definition with my investigation into the idea of “second-order memory” in the digital age, that the film theorist Grainge argues that electronic or audio-visual representations of memory have created a second-order memory system that is evolving into a kind of second-order reality. With the emergence of electronic and audio-visual sites of memory, I will argue how these representations of memory (sites of memory) are shaping our collective understanding of the past and even our perception of reality. This concept becomes particularly interesting when applied to films where characters experience brainwashing, implanting false prosthetic memories that challenge the boundaries of reality and fiction. For example, in spy films like “The Ipcress File,” brainwashing takes centre stage, manipulating memories and identities. I will reveal how cinematic techniques are used to disorientate the audience, mirroring the disorientation experienced by the characters subjected to brainwashing. Through these examples, I will consider and argue how the blurred lines between first-hand experience and mediated memory in cinema can manipulate or change reality.

Through my research and case studies into these cinematic landscapes, we’ll question the nature of memory, the influence of mediated narratives on our recollection of events, and the transformative power of prosthetic memories. This chapter will challenge conventional distinctions between real and virtual experiences, to explore the rich mosaic of memory and identity through the medium of film.

Prosthetic memory, which Landsberg’s states that this is a new form of memory.
“This new form of memory, which I call prosthetic memory, emerges at the interface between a person and a historical narrative about the past, at an experiential site such as a movie theater or museum. (Landsberg, 2004: 2)

It can be argued, that the concepts of memory and identity, their interdependence are best negotiated and challenged in science fiction films, a recurring and central theme of some science fiction films where memory is duplicated, synthetically created, and imprinted into both human and bioengineered brains. Science fiction genre films with examples of prosthetic memory, cross many sub genres, for example Cyberpunk (set in a cybernetic society) and Biopunk (bio and genetic engineering), these films tend to feature replicated humans, clones and cyborgs imprinted with the lived memories of a human being or artificial memories created to inform identity in the artificial. In the chapter on Collective and Cultural memory I will discuss the relationship that museums have with prosthetic memory.

Bioengineered Humans: Clones and Synthetics (prosthetic) Memories

Oblivion (2013) Jack is a clone, number 49, but he is unaware of this because his memories are prosthetic implanted from the original Jack. His prosthetic memory implanted by the invaders AI is of the Earth’s triumph and the defeat of an Alien invasion. As a Drone repair technician he believes he is helping to protect a desolate Earth from the Aliens. But in truth the opposite is true, the Alien Invasion was victorious, and Jack is unknowingly carrying out the invaders AI memories that he was implanted with, but he begins to remember his original memories that he should not have. A clone would necessarily be an exact copy therefore the memories of the original could be copied genetically within the brain.
As Shwab states in his journal article, Cyborgs. Postmodern Phantasms of Body and Mind,
“They will contaminate their memory of us, including their genetic memory stored in a mutilated and mutating genetic code”. (Schwab, 1987: 79)

In the context of film the contamination of memories is typically a key plot point manipulating the protagonist to act in a way opposite in nature to how they would have acted without contamination or memory manipulation. Schwab suggests that memories, including those encoded in the genetic makeup of individuals, are susceptible to contamination or alteration. It highlights the vulnerability of memories to external influences and the potential for distortions or mutations in both individual and inherited memory. For Jack the key event in understanding his true situation, regaining his original memory and identity is the chance meeting of another clone, duplicating his role in a different zone. As in the film Ghost in the Shell the prosthetic memories begin to break down revealing the genetic memory of the original in flashbacks. Jack is a clone, yet he also appears to retain the memories of the original these genetic memories, hidden under the layer of false prosthetic memories imprinted on his brain by the alien AI.
Prosthetic directly translates into the creation of the artificial so in these films, which has bioengineered life central to their theme, for example in both Blade Runner films replicants exist as a subculture, less than humans. What I would argue, and as Lury appears to suggest in her argument on prosthetic culture, which I interpret, is that a clone and therefore the prosthetic memories are real and inform both identity and purpose. This cloned identity and prosthetic memories implanted in the clone are overwritten by the genetic memories as they leak. For example, other films use a similar trope, the clone that does not know it is a clone such as the science fiction film Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009). Sam the protagonist is a clone that is not aware that it is a clone until it meets another clone, as in the film Oblivion. This film also shares similarities with Blade Runner regarding clone life expectancy.
I believe these films share the belief that clones should have the same rights as humans, but they are identified as a subculture less than human.
The Island (Michael Bay, 2005), the last uncontaminated place on Earth and everyone working in the facility is supposedly a survivor of a biological disaster and set in a dystopian future but in fact they are all clones. They are unaware that they are clones and that their sole purpose is to provide spare parts to their owners should their owners become sick or injured. While they do not have a complete memory of their true lives and identities and no memory of the very much safe and undamaged World outside, they have genetic memories to be able to function and additional prosthetic memories of why they should stay in the facility. These genetic memories begin to assert themselves and they begin to remember the original memories and identities after escaping the Island.
Prosthetic and Genetic memories are very similar in execution but while prosthetic memories are implanted using technology in science fiction films genetic memories are a part of the cloning process. Genetic memory while still in its infancy of research in the scientific world offers a solution for cinema to explain how newly created and bioengineered beings, clones can function almost immediately, complete with memories of the original subject up to the moment of activation.

Prosthetic Memory through Genetics

Genetic memories
Darold Treffert the psychiatrist and research director states.

Genetic memory, simply put, is complex abilities and actual sophisticated knowledge inherited along with other more typical and commonly accepted physical and behavioural characteristics. (Treffert, 2015)

The concept of genetic memory while not proven is conceptualised in films and implies that certain aspects of an individual’s identity and capabilities are influenced not only by their personal experiences and upbringing but also by the accumulated knowledge and skills inherited from their genetic lineage. In Science Fiction films the trope of genetic memory creates the possibility for a way of defining how clones can remember the original subjects’ memories. Genetic memories are memories that are encoded in the genetics and may be passed on through the generations. Explicitly in the film examples I have chosen, genetic memories are passed on from the original subject and imbedded within the clone’s genetics, as part of its very DNA. The general belief is that while cloning has been proven, creating a clone with complete memories of the original subject would not be so easily achieved.
This suggests that it is much more difficult to reproduce a person’s memories and learned knowledge than their genetic code. While DNA duplication can be a challenging process, it is typically seen as less challenging than transferring or constructing the complex web of memories and learned knowledge that is stored within a person’s brain. This is consistent with the current scientific understanding of cloning, which places more emphasis on genetically cloning than on trying to mimic every aspect of their mental and emotional composition.
Another many times replicated trope is the idea of the clone who remembers their past life. Alien Resurrection (1997) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This film depicts a form of genetic memory remembered in a clone, Ripley 8, although in this film it is the xenomorph that is credited with the ability to retain memories across the generations rather than a human genetic memory. In the final scenes of Alien3 (1992) Directed by David Fincher, Ripley’s character is shown falling into a furnace clutching the xenomorph to her chest, almost certainly to her death. Alien Resurrection opens on the premise that the scientists are attempting to recreate the xenomorph Queen from Ripley’s clone created through the recovered genetic material. By surgically removing it from the body of a fully grown clone of Ripley. We see Ripley 8 (clone number 8) who exhibits a combination of human and xenomorph DNA beginning to remember her past life in the canteen scene, which surprises the scientists who despite the initial desire to terminate the Ripley’s clone, ending experiment because of this, but decide not to, to see what happens.
This suggests that in the fictional world of the “Alien” franchise, the Xenomorphs possess the ability to genetically pass on memories, and Ripley 8, as a clone, inherits both the memories of the original Ellen Ripley and the Xenomorphs, resulting in a complex combination of experiences and perspectives.
Another example of the clone remembering their past life through genetic memories. The Fifth Element (1997) Directed by Luc Besson is another excellent example of a film where DNA and genetic memory are key to the progress of the narrative. When the Fifth Element is transported back to the Earth in a spaceship and is destroyed on route by the Mangalores, there is only one survivor. The only survivor turns out to be just a severed hand holding a case. The scientist’s use the DNA material from the hand to create a clone. Leeloo is fully grown and complete with all her memories, grown in a machine, we see the cloning method as each layer is formed, the bones, muscles and veins with the final process, exposure to ultraviolet rays to form the skin. Leeloo is complete both in mind and body, the genetic memories encoded into her DNA. The memories are not complete, a scene shows her watching television, rapidly scrolling through images to catch up on recent Earth’s history, martial arts and society.

Memories, it’s in the Blood.
Horror film sub-genre – Vampire Films

As Gateward, Professor of Media Theory argues.
“There are so many vampire films in fact, with so many shared conventions of iconography, theme, and character, that the vampire film has become a genre in itself. And as film studies has illustrated, no genre is stagnant – they are reshaped and re-articulated by cultural circumstance”. (Gateward, 2004).

The Vampire Film Genre films share key elements such having vampires as the main characters, share visual and symbolic representations, share themes like immortality, blood, and darkness, and having shared narrative patterns. These common practises have evolved into the genre’s defining traits. This emphasises how genres, especially the vampire movie genre, are fluid and ever evolving. As a result of cultural context, they are subject to alteration and reconfiguration. The evolution and adaptation of genres in film has been shown to mirror the shifting social, political, and cultural settings in which they are created and viewed. This also implies that the vampire movie genre hasn’t remained constant over time, but rather has changed and evolved. New interpretations, concepts, and variations have been made in these films. The vampire film links into the concept of memories contained in the genetics of a human or bioengineered human like creature, such as Cyborgs and Clones, memory is in the DNA. This link between science fiction films and horror films parallels each other in how they represent prosthetic and genetic memory and how memories are also consumed by the vampires as they consume the living lifeforce through the drinking of their blood.
This concept is also readily accepted in the assumption of the power of Blood memory in vampire films a term I use to describe the acquisition of the victims memories through the drinking of their blood.
Blade (1998) is different as Blade while a vampire is also a Daywalker, immune from the terror of the Sun’s exposure. But this is a unique example of a vampire narrative where the vampire does not burn to ash upon exposure to the Sun. Blade isn’t a pure vampire he sits somewhere between vampire and human; he has all the strengths without the weaknesses. This ability to be able to exist in daylight allows for a new generation of vampire films that removes the effects of the sun on the vampire.
As Gateward states in her journal article.
“Blade, unlike the other vampires, who must rely on sunscreen to move about in the daylight, has no such sensitivity. The vampires in the film even use the term “Daywalker” as an epithet – analogous to half-breed throughout the film”. (Gateward, 2004).

As implied by the name “Daywalker” in the film, Blade is considered a hybrid or “half-breed” in the eyes of other vampires because he possesses traits from both vampires and humans. The fact that he can resist sunlight without suffering any negative consequences puts the conventional vampire mythology to the test and gives the narrative a distinctive dynamic and another example of the evolving genre of vampire films.
The genetic memory concept is introduced in the film Underworld (2003) the Vampire elders can extract memories from their victims by forcefully drinking their blood. They are also able to pass their memories down through the centuries through the sharing of blood, blood sorting. Conan the Barbarian (2011) Directed by Marcus Nispel. While not in the theme of vampire films the link to tasting blood to access memories is explored in the protagonist, Zyms daughter, Marique who inherited her mother’s witch like powers and can extract memories of her victims by scratching them with her extended fingernails and tasting the extracted blood to see memories as visions in the quest to track down Tamara the last surviving pure blood descendent of the sorcerers of Acheron. The memory is in the blood, the genetic memory, to clarify the vampire retains the memories of the victim through the taking of the blood. This is another form of prosthetic memory implantation through the taking of blood the genetic material which contains the memories of the victim. This links into the concept of prosthetic memory conceptualised in science fiction films rather than memory implantation using technology the implantation is through the consumption of genetic material through the taking of the blood. I define this as blood memory, the memories of the vampires victim is acquired through the drinking of their blood.

Second order memory
“Lieux de mémoire” refers to sites or spaces that hold symbolic significance and serve as repositories of collective memory. Traditionally, these could include physical locations such as museums, monuments, or historical landmarks. However, with the advent of electronic or audio-visual media, the concept of “lieux de mémoire” has expanded to encompass digital platforms like online archives, social media, or virtual reality experiences.
Electronic or audio-visual ‘lieux de memoire’ (sites of memory) have
created a kind of second order memory system that is fast becoming, a second order reality. (Grainge, 2018: 225)

The concept of “lieux de mémoire” (sites of memory) was originally introduced by the French historian Pierre Nora in his work of the same name, published in the 1980s. Nora’s idea was to explore how societies remember and commemorate their past through physical places, monuments, and tangible objects. These “sites of memory” are important because they serve as tangible anchors for collective memory, allowing societies to connect with and remember their history.

Grainge states or suggests that electronic or audio-visual representations of memory have created a second-order memory system that is evolving into a kind of second-order reality. This idea can be interpreted in several ways consider digital media and memory for example with the advent of digital technologies, we now have vast archives of audio-visual content that document our past. These can include photographs, videos, audio recordings, and digital documents. These digital representations of memory have become increasingly important in society. Then there are the advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have allowed for the creation of immersive experiences that can transport individuals into historical or imagined environments. These experiences can create a sense of “second-order reality” by simulating historical events or settings. Another example is online platforms and social media which have become sites of collective memory. People share personal stories, photos, and videos online, creating a digital archive of personal and shared memories. These online spaces can shape how people remember and interpret events.

Grainge also alludes to the idea that media representations of events and history can shape people’s perception of reality. In the age of digital media, these representations can have a significant impact on how individuals and societies construct their understanding of the world. In effect what Grainge is arguing that electronic and audio-visual representations of memory are becoming increasingly influential in shaping our collective memory and even our understanding of reality. They can create new layers of meaning and interpretation, and they have the potential to influence how societies remember and engage with their past. This concept is particularly relevant in the context of the digital age, where information and media are easily accessible and widely disseminated.
This highlights the transformative power of electronic or audio-visual sites of memory, arguing that they have established a secondary memory system that is increasingly influencing how we understand the past and how we perceive the environment. This is an interesting statement a slight deviation from the prosthetic memory argument, but somewhat aligned, the idea of a second order memory system. One individual with two memories, one real memory one not, possibly prosthetic this suggests that such an individual would also have dual identities too.

When considering films with brainwashing as a central theme, false memories are imprinted into the protagonist’s brain using audio and visual methods, these prosthetic memories form a ‘second order memory’ for the subject. In effect a second identity, a dual identity this second identity usually a significant departure from the protagonist’s identity and reality. For example, in the film Ghost in the Shell (2017) Major’s short-term memories are prosthetic, upon activation her consciousness was derived from these memories, her imprinted memories and the role as a Sector 9 operative dominates her life and creates a false identity. This false identity created by the scientists to weaponize her, to use her abilities to uphold the law against terrorists, just like the ones that caused the drowning of her parents and almost her own death. Gradually her real memories (her genetic memory) and identity leak through the prosthetic memory imprint, her second order memories revealed in flashbacks before now begin to take over. Her second order memories become first order memories as the memory leak takes over and Major realises her life since actuation as a cyborg is a lie. This argument offers possibilities to expand the terminology for this type of memory in films. I would suggest that prosthetic memories are interchangeable with false memories in this case but with the caveat that not all prosthetic memories are false memories. When the protagonist is imprinted with false memories then as Radstone states the link between false and prosthetic memories can be argued.
“In problematising oppositions between authentic and false memories, and between real and virtual experience, theories of cinema and prosthetic memory usher in a world in which prosthetic memories can enhance understanding of others ( . . . )“ (Radstone and Schwarz, 2016: 355)

This argument or statement suggests that theories of cinema and prosthetic memory provide a framework that challenges conventional distinctions between real and virtual experiences and true and false memories. In a world where the distinctions between memory, experience, and understanding become increasingly ambiguous, this viewpoint creates opportunities for synthetic memories to deepen our understanding of others and foster empathy.

Spy Films and Brainwashing

The Ipcress File (1965) Directed by Sidney J. Furie and beautifully shot by Otto Heller, a spy film with brainwashing as the central theme. Harry Palmer is tasked to recover a highly valued British scientist that has been kidnapped. Otto Heller makes extensive use of framing, filming through the windows of a telephone box, car windows and doors a reflection in a car mirror alternating with Dutch angles. Bordwell in the context of film style in the 1960’s and comparing with French New Wave films by Jean Luc Goddard
These framing techniques add together to disorientate the spectator. The cinematography seemingly prepares the spectator for the disorientation that comes in the brainwashing scenes.
The kidnapped scientist is recovered but appears to have lost the ability to recall his research, the memories have gone, a victim of the brainwashing techniques known as IPCRESS. The audio tape recovered in the search for the missing scientist is investigated and when played back in a continuous loop a recurring sound is heard, not music but a sequence of sounds appearing to be meaningless. The effect of this audio-visual confusion is to imprint false memories, brainwashing.
Lopes considers the effect of substituting memories and states.
“Films directly address the threshold of reality and fiction; memory from first-hand experience or a construction from another mediated memory.” (Lopes, Ncc and Bastos, 2019: 2).

Suggesting that films explore the boundary between reality and fiction while challenging the distinction between memory derived from first-hand experience and memory constructed from mediated sources. By presenting narratives that combine elements of reality and fiction, films prompt spectators to question the nature of memory and the influence of mediated narratives on our recollection of events. This ties in with the idea of prosthetic memories. These false memories, that is his prosthetic memories, combined with the trigger phrase words ‘now listen to me’ are used by the real traitor and double agent to control Harry’s actions. Other films with a similar trope are the Manchurian Candidate (1962) directed by John Frankenheimer, and the remake of the same name Manchurian Candidate (2014) directed by Jonathan Demme.

Gateward, F. (2004) Genders OnLine Journal – Presenting innovative theories in art, literature, history, music, TV and film., Genders Online Journal. Available at: (Accessed: 17 February 2021).
Grainge, P. (2018) ‘Memory and popular film’, in Memory and popular film. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-4726.2004.141_16.x.
Landsberg, A. (2004) Prosthetic Memory : The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. Available at:,shib&user=s1523151.
Lopes, M. M., Ncc, I. and Bastos, P. B. (2019) ‘Memory ( Enhancement ) and Cinema : an exploratory creative overview’.
Radstone, S. and Schwarz, B. (2010) ‘Memory’, in Radstone, Susannah and Shwarz, B. (eds), pp. 325–342.
Schwab, G. (1987) ‘Cyborgs. Postmodern Phantasms of Body and Mind’, Discourse, 9, pp. 64–84. Available at:
Treffert, D. (2015) Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned – Scientific American Blog Network. Available at: (Accessed: 4 February 2021).

Abstract – Prosthetic Memory