Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Love, Longing and Danger: Memory and Forgetting in Early Twenty-First-Century SF Films

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Love, Longing and Danger: Memory and Forgetting in Early Twenty-First-Century SF Films

Article excerpt

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, there has been a noticeable presence of sf films that represent meditations on the themes of memory, longing and nostalgia. Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 (UK/US 2003), Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (US 2004) and Wong Kar-wai's 2046 (France/Germany/Hong Kong/China 2004) are three such examples that were released in the early part of the twenty-first century. These films are unique in their representation of the complexities of chance encounters, elusive relationships and the themes of memory, love and longing. There is an earlier tradition of sf films in the 1980s and 1990s that focus on memory's subjectivity, films that include Blade Runner (Scott US/Hong Kong 1982), Total Recall (Verhoeven US 1990), Strange Days (Bigelow US 1995) and Dark City (Proyas Australia/US 1998). These earlier films are preoccupied with the commodification of memory, with the use of technology in creating false or prosthetic memories in both humans and androids and, as a consequence, questioning memory's authenticity. While sf films from both periods are set (or have story sections that are set) in either alternative realities or the future where memories can be manipulated, sf films from the early twenty-first century also exhibit a different characteristic. These later films are often made by filmmakers for whom the depiction of the future or alternative present is of secondary concern compared to the philosophical and emotional thrust of the narrative.

In the 1990s, a rapid expansion in the field of memory studies within the humanities and social sciences, often described as the 'memory boom' (Rossington and Whitehead 5), meant that our preoccupations with questions of how we remember and forget, and of the subjective nature of our memories, were brought to the fore and became aligned with the complexities of human life in the late twentieth century. Susannah Radstone suggests in her introduction to Memory and Methodology that the 'contemporary explosion' of scholarly work on memory is part of a more general 'cultural fascination with memory' (9). Widespread interest in the fields of virtual memory and prosthetic memory form just a small part of the current preoccupation with memory in Western culture, while migration in the second half of the twentieth century has contributed to the current fascination with genealogy and nostalgia (Whitehead 2). Citing David Lowenthal's work on the subject of heritage, Anne Whitehead notes that the current obsession with memory is partly a response to the 'rapid and pervasive change' brought about by technology (2). In Screening the Past, Pam Cook describes the 'growing preoccupation with memory and nostalgia' as one of the most significant developments in film studies since the 1990s (1), mirroring the growth in memory studies across the disciplines around the same time. Sinha and McSweeney suggest that film has had 'an almost symbiotic interaction with memory' since its invention, emphasising that memory has been a 'core component' of films in the 1990s and 2000s (2, 13). The growth in neurological and theoretical research into memory coincides with the shiftin focus on alternative aspects of memory in sf films in the early twenty-first century. Code 46, Eternal Sunshine and 2046 are less concerned with the details of technology used in manipulating memory and more preoccupied with the emotional and psychological blurring of the distinctions between remembering and forgetting. This article veers from the more familiar materialist approach to sf film analysis, and is underpinned instead by a philosophical approach that incorporates theories of memory and mourning from the work of Paul Ricoeur and, to a lesser extent, Sigmund Freud.

In creating the world of Code 46, existing cityscapes of Shanghai and Hong Kong are juxtaposed with the deserts of Dubai and Rajasthan to depict settings that are visually recognisable yet dystopian. …

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