May 26, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Amnesia at the Movies

It is a trademark movie scenario: a central protagonist waking up in some strange place, not knowing how he got there. Sometimes, without any memory of his identity. Despite its heavy usage throughout film history, the amnesia episode has continued to be a successful plot device. Case in point, The Hangover Part II, which opens this Memorial Day weekend. This time, like the original, the formula as been exaggerated for outrageous laughs, with three friends mysteriously blacking out after a night of heavy drinking. But, in general the amnesia movie has remained effective because of its flexibility across genres. This week, MRQE looks back at the ten best amnesia flicks, ranging from thrillers to dramas to comedies.

Dude, Where's my Car? (2000) -- MRQE Metric: 39

We start with the stoner classic from 2000. Two potheads (Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott) wake up after a night of partying to find, you guessed it, their car missing. The plot is quick to jump the shark. As they try to re-trace their steps, they encounter a cross-dressing stripper, angry jocks and aliens from another galaxy. The car of the film's title ends up hidden behind a mail truck the whole time. Not much to this one. But-if you were in eighth grade when this film came out-it was a must-see. I quoted it for weeks. LOL

The Night Before (1988) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

This is a late-night cable classic from my childhood. Starring a baby-faced Keanu Reeves and a pre-Aunt Becki Lori Loughlin (Full House anyone?), The Night Before finds Reeves as a high school senior who wakes up stranded in an alley on the night of his prom, in a beaten up tuxedo and missing his prom date. Without his keys or wallet, he searches the city, encountering a pimp named Tito and trying to chase down a thief in his Dad's stolen car. Night Before is a fun ride, and the danger-driven narrative is done with subtle comic touch. No baby in sunglasses here. (What am I thinking of?)

The Hangover (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 69

Now here's the baby in sunglasses! Oh, what a riot. Every time. The highest grossing R-rated movie of all time gets the sequel treatment this weekend. But what can top the Vegas-based original? After a raucous bachelor party, Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up to a wrecked hotel room, a Bengalese tiger and a missing groom- with no memory of any of it. They investigate, hilarity ensues and they eventually find their buddy on the roof of Caesar's Palace! Simple enough.

The Bourne Identity (2002) -- MRQE Metric: 68

For a taste in the action genre, we have the first entry in the Bourne series: The Bourne Identity. Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, an American secret assassin who wakes up on a fishing boat with no memory of his identity, and bullets mysteriously lodged in his back! The movie's pacing is very effective in revealing little information while keeping the audience engaged. This first installment is basically an extended amnesia episode that provides few clues and lots of action. Personally, I prefer the Doug Liman original over the Paul Greengrass sequels. But the fight choreography is awesome throughout.

Overboard (1987) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell star in this romantic-comedy from 1986. Hawn plays Joanna, a snotty, rich woman who falls off her yacht one day while near shore. She's fished out of water by the ship's carpenter, Dean (Russell). With no memory from the accident, Joanna takes up residence with Dean, who convinces her that she is his wife and mother to his four children. What started as a scam by Dean to even out his carpentry fee turns into a romance between Dean and Annie (Joanna's new name/identity). This one is funny and outrageous. And it's usually shown on TBS, so go check the old listings.

50 First Dates (2004) -- MRQE Metric: 58

Sandler and Barrymore have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Both in The Wedding Singer and in our next pick, 50 First Dates, they balance out each other's zaniness (especially Sandler's) and deliver surprisingly sincere performances. In Dates, Barrymore plays a car crash survivor who suffers from short-term memory loss. Set against the backdrop of Hawaii, Sandler plays a local who attempts to woo Barrymore despite being forgotten after every date. Like many Adam Sandler movies in recent years, 50 First Dates teeters between silly comedy and heavy-handed sentimentality. But it's still a fun watch. Especially for a surprsing comic turn by Samwise himself, Sean Austin.

Regarding Henry (1991) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

Harrison Ford plays a greasy, ruthless lawyer turned blank slate in this Mike Nichols' directed drama. After surviving a gun shot to the head, Ford's character suffers total memory loss along with impaired speech and movement. As he forces himself to re-adapt to living a normal life, he re-discovers the love and support from both his wife and daughter. Credit LOST creator J.J. Abrams, in his penned feature debut, for writing a story that shows how a once selfish, dishonest man can re-discover his place in the world through his family.

Dark City (1998) -- MRQE Metric: 72

I never thought the title did this movie justice. Dark City sounds like a second-rate comic book. In actuality, it’s an awesome sci-fi thriller from writer/director Alex Proyas. John Murdoch, a man with little memory of his past, (Rufus Sewell) roams the streets of a strange world covered in darkness. He searches for a family he can't remember while strange beings with telekinetic powers chase after him for his soul. It's an eerie, nightmarish vision, and that's precisely what makes this a must-see amnesia flick.

The Majestic (2001) -- MRQE Metric: 58

Over the last decade, Jim Carrey's career has been very disappointing. The actor who once brought brilliant, refreshing characters to the screen in Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber and The Truman Show now appears jaded. The Majestic was Carrey's third stab at drama, and there was a lot of hype surrounding the picture back in 2001. Carrey plays a screenwriter, who wakes from a mysterious accident with no memory of his life, and a small town community that embraces him as a war hero. The film received very mixed reviews upon its release and was considered a box office flop. But Carrey presses on. Maybe Mr. Popper's Penguins will be a return to form for the rubber-faced comic.

The Notebook (2004) -- MRQE Metric: 63

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star as young lovers in '40's era South Carolina in this romance adapted from the best-selling Nicholas Sparks novel. The film is actually told in retrospect as an older man (James Garner) reads diary entries (the notebook) to a woman in a retirement home. The woman has lost her memory. Gosling and McAdam's affair--spanning years, through war and class divides--is told to her in extended flashbacks. The film is one of the few epic romances in recent time that has won over audiences, probably because of an abundance of heart-wrenching moments that may require a Kleenex or two.


  1. My favorite was Dude Where's My Car.  That movie was hillarious, considering that the duo were stoned and they faced lots of interesting problems during the movie (especially the continuum transfunctioner narative). 

  2. That was a great movie, it should make anyone laugh their butt off!

  3. I loved 50 First Dates. It made me wonder how much the family could have received if they had consulted with a car accident attorney orlando.

  4. I loved 50 First Dates. It made me wonder how much the family could have received if they had consulted with a car accident attorney orlando.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...