Wednesday, 20 May 2009

"Now... where was I?"

The last film being shown as part of the Movies and the Mind Season is this weekend. The Arnolfini are showing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I haven’t seen it but the book is astonishing.

Can you get to Bristol? Like films? Like brains? Go!

The concept behind Movies and the Mind (kudos to Bristol Festival of Ideas and to the lovely lovely people at Bristol Neuroscience) is to show films relevant to current topics in neuroscience, then have a discussion about the film and wider issues with members of an expert panel (experts on brains, minds or films).

Initially lured by A Matter of Life and Death paired with the promise of some geeky discussion I ended up seeing Memento at the Arnolfini. As much as I think A Matter of Life and Death is one of the most amazing films about a neurological condition (or is it?) ever made, I couldn’t make that one.

The experts at Memento were Dr Clea Warburton who researches neural and cellular substrates of learning and memory processes, and Dr John Holloway who specialises in the treatment of people who have suffered head injury that affects brain function. The discussion was chaired by Dr Ash Ranpura, a neuroscientist from University College London who promotes talk and public debate around issues in neuroscience.

I saw Memento when it first came out but couldn’t remember it very well (ha!). So here is a quick reminder of the plot: Leonard Shelby is a former insurance fraud investigator searching for the man he believes raped and killed his wife during a burglary. During the attack Leonard suffered a severe head trauma which left him with anterogarde amnesia – the inability to make and store new memories. Leonard maintains a system of notes, photographs, and tattoos to record information about himself and others, including his wife's killer.

A particular strength of going to see a film in this format is there’s no need to be embarrassed about being a massive geek. We all knew why we were there, for unashamedly nerdy film- and neuro-talk.

We watched, we thought for a bit, then we poured out our opinions and questions. The experts were indeed expert, but the atmosphere was informal enough to encourage plenty of discussion from the audience.

Clea and John agreed that it was a pretty good portrait of anterograde amnesia, if a little peppered with some artistic licence. There was also some particularly good chat about the way in which the film’s structure reflected the way in which we actually remember our lives, like little episodic fragments rather than the seamless narrative that we’re used to on screen.

Another particularly fruitful discussion concerned the fact that there most certainly isn’t a clear black and white distinction between remembering and forgetting. The film addresses this by suggesting a fairly wobbly continuum between drawing a total blank and vivid memories, which features remembering inaccurately, deliberately remembering differently, and deliberately forgetting and everything else in between. Which we are all prone to, brain injury or not.

There was also some really interesting stuff about recognition versus memory as such, and whether these are different systems and how they can be specifically affected as in the case of face blindness. But that really deserves a post all of its own.

A lot of the stuff the audience wanted to know, just isn’t known yet. But then that in itself is something worth knowing.

It is such a great platform for really good discussion - especially as you've all just spent the last 90 minutes sharing the same air, so everyone is quite relaxed with each other. Frankly, all films should be shown like this.

Monday, 11 May 2009

I'll take a Donald

Quite why baby wigs aren't listened under 'what you need to buy' section of my 'NHS guide to pregnancy' I simply do not know.

As seen on Graham Linehan's blog