Bumped your head and now can’t remember who you are? Don’t worry, a handsome stranger will sweep you off your feet and you’ll be happier than ever before! Well, according to movies, at least.
In Netflix’s new holiday rom-com “Falling for Christmas,” Lindsay Lohan plays main character Sierra, a spoiled hotel heiress who experiences a bout of amnesia after a skiing accident.
The film is jam-packed with holiday spirit, and it’s exciting to see Lohan make her cutesy Christmas comeback, but brain injuries aren’t magical, and experts say when TV and movies use amnesia as a plot, it can give viewers an inaccurate understanding of what happens when someone endures head trauma.
“Falling for Christmas” is far from the first film to use amnesia as a storyline. In 2012, Rachel McAdams loses a chunk of her memory after a car crash in “The Vow.” In 1987 and 2018’s remake of “Overboard,” a fall from a boat results in amnesia and related antics.
Rami Hashish, a body performance and injury expert, points out many of these types of movies are “dramatizing and making the concept of sustaining a traumatic brain injury and having memory loss to be somewhat sexy.” It’s not, and he notes that for those who have suffered brain injuries, it can be a challenge for others to understand what they are going through. “A movie like this goes in the face of that.”
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How identity loss actually happens
Films that include a main character experiencing amnesia aren’t always accurate.
“Typically amnesia (from brain injuries) doesn’t result in a loss of your identity,” Hashish says, meaning while it’s possible to hit your head and experience memory loss, it likely wouldn’t cause you to forget who you are.
In “Falling for Christmas,” Lohan’s character appears to be experiencing a fugue state or dissociative amnesia, says Dr. Derek Chong, the vice chair of neurology at Lenox Hill Hospital. But dissociative amnesia is actually a psychological response to stress or trauma – not something caused by a physical injury to the head.
The film also skips over other complications that are likely to occur after a brain injury.
“You have a lot of other maybe physical, emotional, psychological complications that aren’t really reflected in a movie like this,” Hashish adds.
Dissociative amnesia is also not as common as entertainment might lead you to believe. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s rare, affecting about 1% of men and 2.6% of women.
Is it time to stop featuring amnesia on screen?
Some viewers are starting to take notice of amnesia plots – and call them out.
“It’s so annoying when movies (portray) brain injuries this way. It’s not like that, nothing magical about it,” wrote one commenter in response to the New York Times’ review of the film.
Chong believes TV and movies can still have fun with a forgetful main character, but he stresses the importance of accuracy to avoid leaving viewers misinformed.
“Do I think that we should retire (amnesia in movies)? Not really, because it is something that does happen… but I think more of an explanation (might help) … It wouldn’t have taken much to draw that part out.”
Hashish agrees that more accuracy is needed to avoid potentially offending those who have been through traumatic brain injuries.
“Amnesia is something that is not to be joked around,” Hashish says. “If they want to put it in a movie, that’s certainly understandable, but I think it should be done in a manner that is at least somewhat accurate, so that the society as a whole doesn’t have this completely false understanding of it and actually has an understanding of how detrimental it may be to somebody’s life and the lives of the people around them.”
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