#334. Amnesia

What were we talking about? Oh yes, amnesia. While this trope is usually associated with soap operas, it has been used in a variety of diverse formats and for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes the effect can be used for humorous purposes, much like the plot of 50 First Dates (2004). More often than not, amnesia is used to make the protagonist more relatable to the audience. Everything the main character re-learns is new information to the audience. In fact, this trope is typically used to not only provide lengthy exposition but to also give the plot a good twist at the end. If anything, amnesia can make characters more dynamic: acting one way as they regain their memories, then having to make the decision to either revert to their former life or pick up their new one once they learn the truth. This week’s two films highlight amnesia as a plot device.

UnkownUnknown
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 85 minutes /  1.42 hours

The largest appeal of amnesia as a plot device is the erasure of any memories the main character would have that would bias their decision-making process. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). The little hints the main character gives himself to avenge his wife’s death only act to propel him into an unintentional bias that drives him to vengeance. While Memento covers a medical condition, temporary amnesia has its uses as a plot device as well. When key memories fall into place for temporary amnesiacs, the plot is driven forward by the exciting revelations. Films like Total Recall (1990) and Unknown (2011) hide assassins in plain sight. However, when the entire cast of characters contracts temporary amnesia, figuring out who’s who and each individual’s alliances makes for exceptional drama.

Not to be confused with the Liam Neeson film of the same name, Unknown (2006) starts with a group of men regaining consciousness and trying to figure out why they’re locked in an abandoned warehouse. They also need to deduce why one of them was tied up, another shot, and why the rest of them have other, various injuries. Slowly, they begin to piece together that they are part of a failed kidnapping due to an accidental chemical leak that put them in a temporary coma and erased their memories. As their memories return, each individual realizes they’re either a kidnapper or the kidnapped. When the mafia returns to unlock the warehouse, they proceed to eliminate the witnesses, not knowing that one of the individuals has just remembered his actual job: acting as an undercover cop to infiltrate the mob.

The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Memories are the moments that define our lives. We are who we are via the collected memories of our lives. These memories shape us and inform our decisions in life. If memories are erased, an individual can be molded into almost anyone. If a government has the ability to erase memories, they can create docile and obedient soldiers, much like was seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Of course, memories are much easier to erase when they’re part of a cybernetic interface. Films like Robocop (1987) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) show this digital memory erasure still comes with some problems, though. But what if a well-trained super soldier loses their memories? Would they continue to call upon their ingrained training, being able to perform all their duties without knowing how they got that way? Would they continue to kill without knowing why?

After an unidentified man is found floating in the Mediterranean by some local fishermen, he only has one clue to his identity: a safe deposit box in Switzerland. While he doesn’t know who he is, he does retain a plethora of useful skills. Opening the box in Zurich, the man learns he has multiple cover identities and opts to use the one of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Unfortunately, his presence is soon identified, and he has to run away, mostly unsure why he is being chased. As he comes in contact with more people from his past, he learns that he was a highly-trained assassin and part of Operation Treadstone. Because he carries no memories of his time as a CIA black ops operative, he decides he’s better off cutting ties with Treadstone. Unfortunately, Treadstone does not want to lose an asset as valuable as Jason Bourne and will fight him to bring him back into the program.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome amnesias

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#323. Puppetry

As a society, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with puppets. While we enjoy films featuring puppets as the main characters, like in Pinocchio (1940) and The Muppet Movie (1979), we also fear them in movies like Child’s Play (1988) and Goosebumps (2015). Aside from the aforementioned Muppets, very few films actually use puppetry exclusively for their characters. The one exception to this was the Thunderbirds in their movie, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), and its modern parody, Team America: World Police (2004). Even if these films prominently feature puppets, they don’t necessarily get into the details of puppetry itself. The act of controlling a puppet can be quite the challenging talent to acquire, but pulling the strings of a marionette isn’t the only way to engage in puppetry. This week’s two films highlight some different puppetry scenarios.

Being John MalkovichBeing John Malkovich
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours

There have been some films focused humans controlling humanoid robots. From the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) to its live-action remake in 2017, the idea of extending a person’s life through the human mind controlling a robotic body via mental puppetry isn’t new. Robocop (1987) and Chappie (2015) both emphasize the idea that humans can use machines to live their life when their bodies are no longer able to. The concept is rarely reversed, though. It is disquieting to think that a robot could control a human in the same way we control them. As humans, we already possess the skills needed to make puppets of our fellow humans. Through coercion, blackmail, and other forms of manipulation, we can control others to do our bidding. Only one film explores the ability for a human to control another human from the inside: Being John Malkovich (1999).

Famed actor, John Malkovich (himself), decided to make a rather drastic career change and become a world-renowned puppeteer. Unfortunately, this was not actually Malkovich’s decision, as Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) was controlling his body at the time. Craig was a down-on-his-luck puppeteer who happened to find a portal into the body of John Malkovich by chance. Initially, the portal only allowed for 15 minutes inside Malkovich to experience the life he lives. Using his skills as a puppeteer, Craig found that not only was he able to control Malkovich, but he was able to stay inside the portal for as long as he wanted. However, the portal is not meant for him and the organization that plans to use the portal to prolong their immortality proceed to enact a plan to get Craig to vanquish himself from the portal, allowing them to take his place permanently.

Pacific RimPacific Rim
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

It is interesting to note that puppetry, while usually relegated to humanoid objects smaller than their puppeteers, can be used to control objects much larger than the one controlling them. Even the one-for-one puppetry scale referenced in the previous section pales in comparison to the giant robots known as “mecha.” A staple of anime and manga, mecha are usually large humanoid robots piloted by a human. There have been some notable entries in this sub-genre, including Gurren Lagann, Star Driver, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The hallmark of these series has usually been either battles between mecha or (more commonly) battles against giant monsters. When Pacific Rim (2013) came out, I became excited about potentially seeing these mecha anime adapted into live-action films. For right now, I’ll just have to settle with its soon-to-be-released sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018).

Giant monsters called Kaiju began emerging from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc on the nearby landmasses. To combat this threat, a multinational alliance started building gigantic robots called Jaegers. These Jaegers were too big to for a single human to pilot them, so the concept of “drifting” was created to share the mental load between two or more pilots. When the frequency of the Kaiju attacks left the Jaegers helpless to defend the world, the world leaders scrapped the project for building a coastal wall. When this wall also failed, the commander of the Jaegers hatches one final plan to close the portal between our world and the world of the Kaiju. Using the last few working Jaegers, the mission to detonate a nuclear device in the portal commences just as the largest Kaiju ever emerges from the rift.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 peculiar puppets