Thursday, 21 January 2021

The (im)persistence of memory

I have a pretty good memory. In fact, at the risk of grandstanding, I'd go as far as to say I have an excellent memory. It's not photographic, or eidetic, or any other -ic, but I have very good recall. More often that not this is a blessing, though it can also be a curse (something I've sort of alluded to before). Either way, you'd want me on your pub quiz team.

Maybe this is partly why I'm interested in false memory syndrome. I'm not talking about generic common false memories - you know the sort, you think you remember something from a family holiday when you were two and a half but what you really remember is a photograph taken of you on that holiday. I have no empirical evidence to back this up but I suspect such "constructed" memories are quite common. No, what really interests me are memories of things that never happened.

Example. Reservoir Dogs is a film I've seen a lot, though not recently. I have a crystal-clear memory of Harvey Keitel, as Mr White, saying the following line to Michael Madsen, as Mr Blonde:

"Just because you say something is so [pause] doesn't necessarily make it fucking so!"

This memory is razor-sharp in my head. I can see how Harvey in standing, I can picture the angle his head is tilted at.

Except it didn't happen.

I know this, because I went looking for a video clip of the scene, with the intention of making it into a GIF-based meme rebuttal to all the blow-hard Trump supporters who asserted that they knew, they just knew, that the election had been stolen from them, despite the total lack of any evidence to corroborate that perspective. I know, I was bored, it's lockdown, what do expect? But to my surprise, YouTube failed me - I couldn't find the clip. I even tried Vimeo. Again, nothing. So I searched film-quote websites for Mr White soundbites, to make sure I'd got the wording of the quote right, just in case I had misremembered (although, in my arrogance, I didn't really think this was the case). Still no luck.

In desperation, I found a copy of the Reservoir Dogs script online, here (it's brilliant, by the way). Side note: did you know that "fuck" and its verb-form variants appear exactly 200 times in that script? Well, you do now. Anyway, by searching the script for "necessarily", I found these lines, as spoken by Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn):

"You beat on this prick enough, he'll tell ya he started the Chicago fire. That don't necessarily make it so."

And that's as close as anything in the whole film comes to my false memory. In fact, the scene as filmed, rather than as scripted, was even closer to my memory, with the F-bomb dropped as I had remembered (as filmed, the F-count is way higher than 200). But it wasn't Mr White speaking. I think maybe I conflated this with another scene in which Mr White argues swearily with Mr Blonde (the whole "You gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?" scene). Who knows. Basically, my subconscious mind took these two scenes and mashed them together to create an entirely new scene that never actually existed. Fascinating, eh?

It ain't necessarily so

Barking all day

So, false memory syndrome, that is to say memories of things that didn't happen rather than constructed memories, is fascinating. Freud was very interested in it, but what did he know? Maybe Tarantino unwittingly performed memory implantation on me instead ... but that's a whole other can of worms.

What a load of old waffle. Good excuse to write about a classic film though, eh? And yes, since today is 21/01 I did wait until 21:01 to post this - you should probably feel sorry for me...


  1. I'm just depressed by how young they all look. I remember them looking older.

    1. You want to see Reservoir Dogs looking older? Forget Mr White's adverts for Direct Line, try this... (you won't thank me for it).