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2-13-06

12:15 PM

Who Am I?

I read a review of a film called Unknown White Male, a documentary about a 35 year old guy in Manhattan who is riding a subway to Coney Island and realizes that he has total amnesia. He gets scared, turns himself in at a police station, and they try to figure out who he is since he has no ID on him. By the end of the movie he still has not regained his memory but has built a new life for himself, interacting with people (family and friends) that previously knew him though he does not remember them.

It's difficult to describe in a paragraph or two how his new life comes about, but what was interesting was that he went through what could be described as a "born again" experience, but without Jesus. The movie sounds like an interesting study on how your environment, as well as your genetic predispositions, can shape who you are. If you could have a do-over in your mid-30's, how would you turn out?

His amnesia was not due to a head injury or any emotional/psychological trauma. I did have a case of amnesia once. I met some college friends from U. of Ill., a year after we graduated, at a football game in Columbus, OH (Illini visiting Ohio St.). I had downed a few beers while tailgating but was not drunk. We were throwing the football around and apparently (so I was told) I hit my head against somebody else's diving for a pass.

Supposedly I acted normal after that, went into the stadium and got to my seat. After about a quarter of the game, I remember a great fear gripping me as I struggled to remember my name. I was not concerned with "Where am I?', instead it was "Who am I?" It took a few minutes, but my memory started to come back to me. By then I was in no shape to watch the game, so I asked the buddy for the keys to his car so I could relax someplace quiet (he drove me to the game). Surprisingly he gave me the keys, though he probably would not have if he knew about my memory problem.

Even more surprisingly I found the car right off in that vast parking area. I still do not have any memory of what happened from when I hit my head to when I "came to". We take our memory for granted, yet it seems like it's held together by a fragile web inside of our head. The website for the movie has an interesting interview with a doctor of psychology, who the director consulted for the film, where he breaks down long-term memory into three categories: episodic, semantic and procedural. Fascinating stuff.

Unknown White Male made the rounds at the film festivals last year, and will have a limited release in NY/LA next week, followed by showings in a few cities next month. This is one DVD I'd like to see, and maybe even turn it into a Sunday school study.
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