Not all that long ago, Dr. Wede discussed the different kinds of amnesia that people can experience in his lecture. He mentioned that many of the movies we have seen with characters that seem to experience amnesia are actually terribly inaccurate. For example, “50 First Dates” was called out as being terribly inaccurate, among others. I thought it would be interesting to analyze a very popular movie that came out fairly recently: “The Vow.”
The movie is based on the true story of a couple that wrote a book about their marriage. They married fairly quickly after they met. Ten weeks after their wedding, the two survived a serious car accident, but the wife sustained a traumatic brain injury, resulting in dense retrograde amnesia. She had no memory of the last 18 months (in the movie, it was a few years), which included her entire relationship with her husband. Upon awaking in the hospital, she did not recognize her husband at all, and was essentially married to a stranger. She was unaffected otherwise, with no other loss of abilities.
Seeing as this movie was created based on a true story, I assumed that it would be mostly correct. Directors always change some things when taking a book and putting it on the big screen, but I was not sure just how much they would twist the plot and details of the story. After a little research, I found that the movie is almost entirely accurate, but there are a few peculiarities that make it a little less believable.
The movie’s representation of the effects of retrograde amnesia are entirely accurate, as are her isolated effects from the accident. In most cases of traumatic brain injury, only one part of the brain is effected, and as we have learned the brain is sectioned off into different areas that function in different tasks. This would explain why the character in the movie has no recollection of the last five years of her life, but attended law school after a short period of recovery. Both her ability to create new memories and her language abilities were unaffected after the accident. She retains her sense of identity (for the person she was five years ago) and all of her early memories, something that most movies about retrograde amnesia tend to inaccurately represent. However, the one thing that the movie gets wrong is that the character seems to fully recover the personality of the person she was at the time of the accident. It is almost as though she “finds” herself again, and eventually recovers all of the beliefs and personality traits that she had lost from the accident. This however, is not how it usually works with retrograde amnesia. People never really get back to who they were at the time of the accident, because they do not have those exact same experiences that cause them to develop into the person that they previously were. Although they may be similar, they will never truly be exactly the same, which is the only big inaccuracy that Hollywood placed into the film “The Vow.”