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.

47 comments:

Allison said...

Isn't it great to have a discussion after viewing? It makes me not only remember the film more, but hearing the opinions of others makes you look at things in a different light sometimes. I so miss film school for that.

I haven't seen Memento in ages, great film though, need to rent it again.

Karen's Mouth said...

I actually went with a friend who did her degree in film, and it made her really miss film school too! She's now something to do with money (she keeps telling me but I get confused).

I think she found it a little frustrating as the audience were more up for a bit of neuro talk than film talk, and to her some of the stuff we were coming out with was blindingly obvious to her as a film buff!

Do rent it again. It's ace.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a brilliant idea! I think all neuro films should be shown this way! I love films like Memento, but never have anyone to discuss the neurological aspects with afterward.

You KNOW I wish I had been there.

Karen's Mouth said...

I know it Barb, I know it. Hey, you could set it up! With your neuro contacts and I bet you know all the best venues. Need a small intimate cinema, some clever types (and a table up front to line them up at with jugs of water and mics) and you're away! And advertise widely, audience was mostly general public and lots of them retired folks.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have to shamefacedly now admit that this was sort of done here, as I just recalled. The Stroke Program sponsored a showing of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly (at precisely the type of venue you described), and while there was no panel discussion later, there was an introductory speech by the director of said program.

Valerie said...

Brain injury and its results was a topic I heard about a lot in graduate school; I found it endlessly fascinating. Much of what we know about the structure and function of the brain owes to the terrible - and interesting - losses experienced by these patients.

nursemyra said...

I really liked Memento, would love to have seen the other films you mentioned

Karen's Mouth said...

Ah but the magic is all in the questions after Barb. Especially the ones from people with absolutely no prior knowledge of neurology. Years of training take you down such specific routes of thought that it's fascinating to hear completely different angles on stuff.

Couldn't agree more Valerie. I worked with a fascinating patient over a period of nearly 10 years. We're just analysing all the data now. I keep trying to blog about it but nothing I say can do it justice. He was really quite special and *extremely* patient with us and all our boring tests!

Welcome nurse myra - I didn't make it to any of the others sadly. Hope they do it again, it was such a great idea.

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