Well, I confess that I’ve taken something from Brainpickings, but only because it was tweeted approvingly by Jennifer Ouellette. “The Lost Mariner” is a 6-minute film centered on a patient described in Oliver Sacks’s popular book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. You can find more information about the personnel involved, and all the prizes the film garnered, at the Vimeo site. In 2015, Brainpickings described the subject studied by Sacks:
One of those patients was Jimmie G. — a “charming, intelligent, memoryless” man admitted into New York City’s Home for the Aged with only an unfeeling transfer note stating, “Helpless, demented, confused and disoriented.” Jimmie G. is the subject of the second chapter, titled “The Lost Mariner,” which Dr. Sacks opens with an epigraph from the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel:
“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all… Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.”
In the beautiful short film The Lost Mariner, independent animator Tess Martin brings Jimmie G.’s rare memory condition to life using photograph cutouts and live action. The effect is a stunning visual analog to the disorienting see-saw of reality and unreality constantly rocking those bedeviled by memory impairments, exposing the discomfiting yet strangely assuring truth in Buñuel’s words.
Wikipedia describes Jimmie G.’s ailment like this:
- “The Lost Mariner”, about Jimmie G., who has lost the ability to form new memories due to Korsakoff’s syndrome [JAC: the syndrome is associated with long-term abuse of alcohol, and you forget everything that happens to you within minutes.]. He can remember nothing of his life since the end of World War II, including events that happened only a few minutes ago. He believes it is still 1945 (the segment covers his life in the 70s and early 80s), and seems to behave as a normal, intelligent young man aside from his inability to remember most of his past and the events of his day-to-day life. He struggles to find meaning, satisfaction, and happiness in the midst of constantly forgetting what he is doing from one moment to the next.
The entire chapter by Sacks is in the New York Review of books (free); Jimmie was 49 when admitted to the Home, and is named by Sacks as “Jimmie R.” Read it to remind you of Sacks’ humanity, empathy, and remarkable ability to write.
Click on “vimeo”, and then on the enlarging box ate the vimeo site, to see it on full screen.
The man who visits Jimmie is his brother: the only person he consistently recognizes. He forgets everyone and everything else, including the doctor, within a few minutes. All of us, but especially Sacks, would be curious about what that would be like, and how it would affect your life and well being.
Here’s a bit from Sack’s chapter:
“What year is this, Mr. R.?” I asked, concealing my perplexity under a casual manner.
“Forty-five, man. What do you mean?” He went on, “We’ve won the war, FDR’s dead, Truman’s at the helm. There are great times ahead.”
“And you, Jimmie, how old would you be?”
Oddly, uncertainly, he hesitated a moment, as if engaged in calculation.
“Why, I guess I’m nineteen, Doc. I’ll be twenty next birthday.”
Looking at the gray-haired man before me, I had an impulse for which I have never forgiven myself—it was, or would have been, the height of cruelty had there been any possibility of Jimmie’s remembering it.
“Here,” I said, and thrust a mirror toward him. “Look in the mirror and tell me what you see. Is that a nineteen-year-old looking out from the mirror?”
He suddenly turned ashen and gripped the sides of the chair. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered. “Christ, what’s going on? What’s happened to me? Is this a nightmare? Am I crazy? Is this a joke?”—and he became frantic, panicky.
“It’s okay, Jim,” I said soothingly. “It’s just a mistake. Nothing to worry about. Hey!” I took him to the window. “Isn’t this a lovely spring day. See the kids there playing baseball?” He regained his color and started to smile, and I stole away, taking the hateful mirror with me.
And here’s a three-minute film on the making of “The Lost Mariner”: