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Cinematic amnesia

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Watching Emma Thompson struggle with amnesia in the new Kenneth Branagh thriller, Dead Again, you might get a case of déjà vu. Wasn’t Harrison Ford afflicted with memory loss just weeks earlier, in Regarding Henry? In fact, doesn’t it seem that an inordinate number of films revolve around this relatively rare neurological disorder?

Yes, says Dr. Harold Klawans, professor of neurology at Chicago’s Rush University: ”There are more amnesia cases in the movies than have been published in all of medical literature.”

The cinematic amnesia epidemic has hit dozens of actors, including Goldie Hawn (1987’s Overboard), Rosanna Arquette (1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan), and Gregory Peck (twice-1945’s Spellbound and 1965’s Mirage). A cure isn’t likely, either. As Dead Again proves again, few dramatic devices are more surefire than thrusting a protagonist into such a confusing, possibly dangerous situation — and watching the pieces slowly come together.

Amnesia also plays into the latest movie fad, the personality-change morality play. Before Ford’s accident in Henry turned him from a cutthroat lawyer into a sweet guy, selfish debutante Hawn fell off a yacht in Overboard and became a caring mother to her carpenter’s kids. And remember when uptight housewife Arquette whacked her head on a pole in Susan and threw care to the winds with new pal Madonna? Of course you remember. You aren’t in the movies.

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