Dr. Wind Goodfriend posted an article to Psychology Today about one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw…50 First Dates. For those of you who don’t know, it’s an Adam Sandler movie with Drew Barrymore. Barrymore, playing a character named Lucy, was involved in a car accident years ago that injured, presumably, her hippocampus and left her with a form of amnesia the movie refers to as “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. Basically, the damage from the car accident destroyed her short-term memory to the point where she is not able to move information to her long-term memory. Every day she wakes up thinking that it is the same day as the one of the accident because while sleeping her brain wipes the past day and returns the morning of the crash. Of course, Sandler’s character falls in love with her and attempts to have her reciprocate the feeling. However, since Lucy can only remember events for one day, every time they go out it is like a first date for her.
What the movie got right:
Though the premise seems absolutely ridiculous and the movie is very corny, as clearly pointed out by Dr. Goodfriend in her article, she admits that the psychology behind the condition is accurate. Lucy has what is called anterograde amnesia. The hippocampus, in part, is responsible for moving the working and short-term memory into long-term memory. However, as suspected by Dr. Goodfriend, Lucy’s was destroyed during the crash. This has actually happened in real life and there are living patients who suffer from this damage. It is similar to getting a concussion in the sense that you are not able to remember everything except from a certain point before the trauma. In Lucy’s case, this is the morning of the accident and the period of a traditional day is what her working memory is capable of holding. This is why when she goes to sleep, everything from the previous day is forgotten and she is, again, waking up on the same day (in her perception).
Dr. Goodfriend also elaborates to a scene involving a character named “10 second Tom” who also suffers from anterograde amnesia. However, his working memory is only capable of holding information for, you guessed it, 10 seconds. Though this scene is quite comical, there is a man in reality who suffers from this. However, Clive Wearing, can only remember things for 7 seconds.
What the movie got wrong:
The movie refers to Lucy’s condition as “Goldfield’s syndrome”, which Dr. Goodfriend calls, “Hollywood hogwash”. This was a completely made up name by the producers/writers. Though, as Dr. Goodfriend points out, it doesn’t make much sense for them to make up a name when the condition has an actual name (maybe the made-up name sounded cooler).
Dr. Goodfriend also points out that the movie does a very poor job of depicting what life with anterograde amnesia is actually like. Patients with this condition are in need of constant care and support. It is unheard of for a patient of this to be self-sustaining or even living outside of a hospital. The movie also leaves out some of the bigger picture problems with continuing to live without realizing how much time is passing. As a person with this condition simply ages, they are bewildered by their reflection. In their mind, no significant amount of time as past, but yet they see a much older version of themselves in the mirror. This among other unavoidable complications would make every-day life incredibly challenging for Lucy.
The Ending: (spoiler alert)
Near the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character gives up on Lucy because he realizes that a relationship could never work if she never knows who he is the next day. However, after not seeing him, Lucy is still able to paint Sandler’s character. This is assumed to be because Sandler made such an impact everyday that he was part of her long-term memory. Of course, she still didn’t know him or even recognize him, but she was familiar to him. We talked about this in class with HM who displayed a similar phenomenon.
Overall, the movie accurately portrayed what anterograde amnesia is, but left out the less amusing and romantic characteristics. The article by Dr. Goodfriend does a very good job going over these characteristics and sites them back to other, real, cases very well.
Goodfriend, Wind. “Amnesia in ’50 First Dates’.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201212/amnesia-in-50-first-dates.