Memory at the movies

27 Jun

Last night the Chautauqua Classic Film Series screened Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. In this movie, Harry Myers plays an eccentric millionaire who befriends Chaplin while drunk. Central to the plot is the fact that when he is sober he has no memory of Chaplin, but when he drinks again he remembers his old friend.

City Lights (1931)


Generally, movies do a very bad job of portraying human memory. In the fictional world of films, total amnesia is induced by a blow to the head and cured by a blow to the head. Yet, Chaplin gets it right in City Lights, there is a real phenomenon called state dependent memory where the physiological state of the body during learning acts as a cue for recovering the learned material. There really are cases where some one can learn something while drunk, forget it while sober, and remember it when drunk again.

City Lights is remains a great film and it was a delight to see children drawn into this silent movie. The last five minutes are incredibly powerful.


One Response to “Memory at the movies”



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