#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.

UnknownUnknown
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 can 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, Bourne learns 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

#333. Jim Caviezel

It is to the credit of an actor to be recognizable. Often, this involves acting in roles for many years. The more prolific an actor is, the more likely audiences will begin to recognize them. Usually, with enough performances under their belt, these actors will be able to move up to leading roles and thus become even more recognizable in the process. And yet, some actors who do not have a vast filmography are recognizable. Sometimes, this is due to being in a leading role early in their career. Sometimes, it’s just down to luck. This phenomenon can also occur when an actor is recognizable in another format, like television or theatre, and makes the transition to the big screen. Jim Caviezel is an actor who is recognizable, even if he doesn’t have many acting credits to his name. This week’s two films highlight some of the more recognizable and unrecognized Jim Caviezel performances.

The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

With a film career that started in the early 1990s, Jim Caviezel didn’t have a starring role until Frequency (2000). At this point, his career began to turn him into a more recognizable star. Shortly afterward, he starred in the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. Of course, this role paled in comparison to the eponymous role in The Passion of the Christ (2004) two years later. This success was likely due to Caviezel’s convincing looks and performance that brought the role of Jesus Christ to life for many moviegoers. More recently, Caviezel has been recognizable in the starring role of John Reese in the five-season run of the television show Person of Interest. I first noticed and was able to recognize Jim Caviezel in The Count of Monte Cristo, mostly due to how much I loved this film adaptation.

Edmond Dantés (Jim Caviezel) was surprised to be arrested for treason, especially since he had done nothing wrong. While he endured his imprisonment in the island prison of Château d’If, it wasn’t until his cell was invaded by a neighboring prisoner, Abbé Faria (Richard Harris) that he started to question why he was there in the first place. Upon successfully escaping, Edmond manages to find the treasure Faria alluded to and uses it to start a new life as the Count of Monte Cristo. Back in Marseille, Edmond finds the men who sent him to prison have the success in life he should have had in their place. Through his vast wealth, the Count manages to enact his revenge on these three men, eventually revealing to them that he was the Edmond Dantés they had wronged so many years ago. With his rivals now vanquished, Edmond tries to pick up the pieces of his former life and infuse them with his new one.

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

Sometimes, a small role in a recognizable movie can be recognizable after the fact. I had no idea Jim Caviezel was in Pay it Forward (2000) until I saw it years after it was released and Caviezel had become a recognizable actor. Of course, some of the reason an actor might not be recognizable is that the work he does isn’t in the mainstream. In 2006, while he was doing mainstream action films like Déjà Vu, he was also recovering from leading role performances in flops like Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004), which was likely a film he was cast in due to the popularity of The Passion of the Christ. Aside from the mainstream roles, he also managed to perform in a variety of lesser-known and independent films that even the biggest of film buffs might not have seen. One of the better independent films I’ve seen him in was none other than Unknown (2006).

A man in a jean jacket (Jim Caviezel) wakes up in an abandoned warehouse with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Another four men are also in the warehouse, none of them recalling what had happened or who they were. Slowly, the group starts to piece together what had happened as their memories return. They manage to find a newspaper with an article in it about a wealthy businessman who has been kidnapped. The group realizes they are part of this kidnapping, but nobody knows who the kidnappers are or who the kidnapped man is. Eventually, the gang who perpetrated the crime return to the locked warehouse and proceed to tie up loose ends after receiving the ransom money earlier. With everyone’s identities and allegiances sorted out, the man in the jean jacket remembers another crucial memory that he uses to inform his actions to kill the other gang members.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 commendable Jim Caviezel performances

Bacon #: 2 (Wyatt Earp / Kevin Costner -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)