When the Future Is Hard to Recall

Episodic Memory and Mnemonic Aids in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

in Projections
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Abstract

Puzzle films like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) present challenges not only for viewers, but also for scientists seeking to understand brain functions such as memory formation, because these films deliberately scramble the temporal and spatial contexts that viewers normally rely on to create mental narratives and to form episodic memories. The strategic shuffling of multiple plotlines and chronologies in Arrival ultimately builds to an illusion of clairvoyance in the viewer, the imaged sensation of being able to see into the future, alongside the protagonist, Louise Banks. In order to create this “special effect” within viewers’ memories—a false memory of the narrative’s future—Villeneuve seeds the film with key pieces of information that viewers must hold in memory before ultimately solving the puzzle at the end and enjoying a special form of catharsis in the process.

Contributor Notes

Hannah Chapelle Wojciehowski is the Arthur J. Thaman and Wilhelmina Doré Thaman Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. A literary critic by training, she explores in her current scholarship the intersections of aesthetics, biopolitics, and cognitive-affective neuroscience and psychology. She has collaborated with the Italian neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese on an interview and an article entitled “How Stories Make Us Feel: Toward an Embodied Narratology” (California Italian Studies, 2011). More recently, they have coedited a special issue of the Italian journal Costellazioni entitled “Narrative and the Biocultural Turn” (2018). E-mail: gemelli@austin.utexas.edu

Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind

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