Prosthetic memories and Visual Memory
The Maze Runner (2014) a science fiction sub-genre of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction, is an example of how a prosthetic memory can change the direction of the narrative. How a false memory created through the use of a visual recording, a message from a past that the main protagonists did not live reveals and enlightens both the protagonists and spectators. The film opens with the main protagonist transferring to the surface from a subterranean location. The main protagonist, Thomas arrives with no memory alluding to his identity which in a few days he partially regains some memories limited to his name only. His memory has been wiped selectively, his name the only memory and identity that he knows, just like all the others. They do not know where they are in the world or the reason for their incarceration in this artificial environment, the Glade. They are determined to escape and so each day a team (the runners) explores the maze outside of the Glade, the aim to identify a route out of The Glade and escape back to the real world. Eventually, they escape only to find themselves in the laboratory, everyone appears to be dead, and the laboratory shows damage from a battle between the scientists and an unknown armed group. It is at this point when a visual recording starts to play. In the visual recording the scientist reveals that they have been the subjects of an experiment, the world is a ruin, destroyed by Sun flares and an unknown plague called the Flare, as the visual recording plays an armed battle is revealed playing out in the background. As the battle reaches a climax the scientist commits suicide in front of the camera rather than be captured.
But the visual recording is a falsehood its intention to create prosthetic memories in the small group of survivors. As the survivors are seemingly rescued from the laboratory the next scene reveals the scientist who killed herself in the visual recording is still alive and extorting to the other scientists that they are to prepare for stage 2 of the experiment. The staging of the armed assault in the laboratory and the formulation of memories of past events in the real world are essential in preparing the survivors for the next stage of the experiment. The visual recording is intended to manipulate the memories of the survivors. These survivors who because of what we have assumed to be selective memory wipes or the loss of short-term memory as they remember their names after a few days. They are not able to make a comparison between the real and prosthetic memories that they have been told through the scientist’s visual recording. For example, Burgoyne quotes Landsberg, “Landsberg argues that prosthetic memories, especially those afforded by the cinema, ‘become part of one’s personal archive of experience’.” (Burgoyne, 2003: 224). The visual recording achieves on several levels the effects of prosthetic memory. Firstly, it influences the actions of the protagonists and secondly the understanding of the spectator, as this is the only explanation of what happened to the real world. I have problems with prosthetic memory and visual recordings which include the main protagonist, as this would conflict with the definition of prosthetic memories, but this example does not.
However, in the following two examples I do have trouble coinciding the introduction and of the use of visual recording featuring the protagonist to represent memories that they have forgotten as prosthetic memories. In each case the protagonists have actually lived these memories, that is memories of events that they have forgotten and even though they are delivered by a form of mass media, that is visual recording they still believe do not reside within the definition of prosthetic memories. I featured both films in the Flashback section as they are recordings set in the past. Total Recall (1990) directed by Paul Verhoeven. In the scene where Douglas Quaid watches a visual recording of himself telling him that all of his memories are false, he is not married and not a construction worker but instead an agent actively working against Mars’s administrator Cohaagen. My problem with this visual recording revelation is that the main protagonist Douglas lived this event as he featured in the visual recording therefore it can be argued that these memories are not prosthetic memories even though he has no memory of them. This is an area that deserves to be expanded upon as the definition of prosthetic memory advanced by Landsberg seems limited.
The other example appears in the film Still Alice (2014) Directed by Richard Glatzer. My problem with this film is the suicide visual recording that Alice records for her future self. This visual recording is created for Alice to follow when her memory deteriorates to a set point determined by her daily memory questionnaire that she checks herself against on her mobile phone.
My problem with this visual recording has the same issue I have for Total Recall as the protagonist features in the visual recording of this event, a memory that she has lived and therefore does not accommodate itself within the definition of prosthetic memory. This visual recording conflicts directly with one of the key elements of the prosthetic memory definition “ ( . . . ) a memory of events they did not live ( . . . . ) “ (Landsberg, 2016). This is another example of the difficulty of defining or of even finding the exact words to describe memory in film. In this case, another name and definition should be considered for this type of memory, perhaps Visual Memory?
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