How the Dangers of Memory Affect Characters

Vertigo Memory

Unsurprisingly, there is a downside to clinging to manipulated and distorted memories.

Many films, including Lady Bird and Boyhood, have attempted to represent memory for the audience. These detailed, slice-of-life portraits capture the minutiae of a character’s existence, like that one Justin Timberlake song playing at a party or long camping trips with your dad. When presented in this way, a “memory film” is a positive experience, something warm that is capable of resonating with many while telling a singular story.

However, memories are not always vehicles that transport us to better days seen through rose-colored glasses; even if they are, that can require a deliberate, and detrimental, misremembering. In this video essay, Kevin Rogers examines how memory can cause “humans to live in their own dystopian worlds.” Referencing (and spoiling) VertigoLa Jetée, and World of Tomorrow, Rogers showcases how a “desperate longing for the past will ultimately betray us.”

All the films mentioned engage with the idea of memory and its version of the past, without attempting to portray it directly. In VertigoAlfred Hitchcock wields the warped, perverse power memory can have, as James Stewart‘s character unravels trying to do the impossible and recreate the past. This attempt to bring a distorted memory to life proves fatal. Chris Marker believes in the deceptive power of “immemory“, which is a fundamental aspect of his short film La Jetée. In that short, as well as Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow — a film well-loved here at Film School Rejects — memory is intertwined with time travel. Hertzfeldt’s animated short is arguably the most positive of the three films Rogers includes, but it still posits a melancholic future obsessed with the past. While explaining the popular belief that you cannot truly appreciate the present until it has passed, a character ends up missing out on a small joyous moment with their companion. Her precious memories of the past isolated her from the moments rife with possibility in the present.

Watch Rogers’ video below and try to not to get lost on any walks down memory lane!

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