I have the worst memory ever. Seriously. I’m bad with names, faces, and if I don’t put an event onto my calendar immediately there’s a good chance I’ll be home watching Netflix when I get your “Where are you?” text. That said, I am pretty obsessed with memories. (The ones I remember, at least.) I love taking photos, keeping movie tickets, that sort of stuff. (Wow, just realized I’m still 13-year-old Adam. I’m okay with this.) The recent trailer for The Maze Runner film (crazy good, right?) got me thinking about one of my favorite devices in fiction: The Amnesia Effect.
Who doesn’t love a good do-over? (Spoiler: Tons of characters, actually.) If there’s ever a good reason to absolutely disorient your reader/viewer, it should be because the protagonist has absolutely zero clue what’s going on, sometimes not even their own name. So I wanted to dig into the (altered, damaged, etc.) minds of some of my favorite amnesiacs.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
What’s forgotten? Our hero in this action-packed trilogy is Thomas and the only bit of history he remembers is his name.
Why it works: Thomas, along with a group of other teenage boys, has a blank slate in a village they call The Glade. The answers to who wiped their memories exist in this maze that not only shifts every night, but is inhabited by terrifying creatures known as Grievers. The trilogy is a compelling puzzle and you get this sense that Thomas may be better off not solving it entirely. Good stuff!
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
What’s forgotten? Naomi has forgotten the past four years of her life after hitting her head on some steps.
Why it works: I’m sure plenty of people would love to forget high school, but not like this. Imagine having all your current relationships wound back to where they were four years ago, if they even existed back then. That’s what Naomi is suffering through and her frustration throughout the novel hits the reader hard. The accident is a terrible thing—duh, Adam—but it’s also a perfect opportunity for second chances at past missteps. Silver linings, guys, silver linings!
False Memory by Dan Krokos
What’s forgotten? Much like Thomas from The Maze Runner, Miranda doesn’t know who she is with the added bonus of not knowing she has the power to incite mass panic. Until she accidentally uses it.
Why it works: In this award-winning series, Miranda North is a member in a quartet of teenage amnesiacs trained to be secret weapons. When reading the first book I was constantly torn as to who to trust because Miranda is just in such a vulnerable position for easy manipulation. And the stakes are high because, again, she sort of has this awesome superpower that can bring armies down to their knees. And that twist at the end, ah! Unforgettable.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (screenplay) by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry
What’s forgotten? Clementine has forgotten her boyfriend, main character Joel, with a memory erasure procedure.
Why it works: First off, not a book, I know, I know, but come on, this movie is glorious. When I was in the early stages of my book, I pitched it to a coworker and he said, “Oh, like Eternal Sunshine?” And I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I watched it and my life has been 10x better ever since. Pretty sure 99% of the people who have had their hearts broken wished – at least for a little bit – they could just erase the heartbreaker from memory. (Hell, I bet you wish you could even remove them from existence, but that’s a whole other extreme.) This movie speaks to that part of us while also showing how those experiences make us who we are today. Except not in a cheesy way. In an awesome way.
What are some of your favorite books and films that make good use of The Amnesia Effect?