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Don't You Know Who You Are?

Banes at 12:00AM, Aug. 10, 2023

The movie “Hook” is not one of Spielberg's best-regarded movies - I've always liked it quite a bit, though. One element of it that speaks to me is the main character who's forgotten his true identity and true nature. I love the story about the writing of the screenplay - the writer was brainstorming “what if” scenarios for stories, and (if memory serves) his son or daughter came up with the one line that inspired the script - “What if Peter Pan grew up?”

The story then takes this classic character and puts him in the body of a middle-aged, work-obsessed guy who's lost all connection with childhood joys, and is losing connection to his own kids. It's quite effective, with a strong cast, expert direction by Spielberg and of course, John Williams' music.

Anyway, it's an expanded version of the trope of memory loss, where a character lives their whole life (or a good chunk of it) not realizing their actual identity is something very different, probably greater than they could imagine.

This trope works well with Fantasy or Urban Fantasy of course (the series Once Upon a Time is based on this idea) but is also found in science fiction (The Matrix, and one great, noir-ish episode of Deep Space Nine come to mind), and thrillers like Memento, and thriller/horrors like Angel Heart. Stephen King's IT has this element of forgetting, along with the theme of the connection to our childhood selves and how we can lose track of it.

The philosopher Alan Watts talked about this possibility - not to convince anyone, but just to imagine that we are eternal beings who choose this Earth life, with its limitations and challenges, to deepen ourselves and to experience something other than a blissful, happy wholeness.

Anyway, in fiction it's a fascinating trope that resonates with me - I think the obvious thematic power of this is that we can often get caught up in our work or out situation, and get distracted and ‘off course’ in some way, becoming unhappy. We can forget, or not realize that we are capable of more than we might think, and that our routine or something has caused us to put artificial limits on ourselves (and not in a good way).

The “lost memory” thing is a version of this that shows up in plenty of stories, of course, and this theme is there even in the Amnesia Comedy “The Hangover”.

I wonder - after we pass away, do we “wake up” in a new state, still ourselves but also MORE? And might we remember who we truly are? It's a notion that captures my imagination. I have no way of knowing - but it's a compelling thought.

Meanwhile, we gotta live this life and do the best we can, I reckon.

See you next time!


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Banes at 8:49AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@bravo - Very interesting! I don't know the book at all. Barely even remember the Disney cartoon...with Hook i could tell there was a whole mythology around everything even though I didn't really know it in detail.

Banes at 8:47AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@hushicho - Hey, you're not alone on that take. Spielberg himself is not a fan of how the movie turned out.

Banes at 8:46AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@Jason Moon - That scene is great, and pretty hardcore for a kid's movie!

Banes at 8:45AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@EssayBee - Funny, I've had the Dark City and Perfect Blue dvds around for years and just never watched them for some reason. I gotta get on that! I agree that Hook hits differently and probably better as an adult (if that adult has a liking for the sentimental, at least...)

Banes at 8:44AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@skyangel - Mine as well!

Banes at 8:44AM, Aug. 11, 2023

@PaulEberhardt - Ah, fascinating! The nature/nurture element of it is an important one. A big theme in Total Recall as well.

bravo1102 at 3:12AM, Aug. 11, 2023

Guess I'm the only one familiar with Barrie's original work. The ending scene is actually in Hook. Pan returns to find Wendy grown up and no longer able to fly but with a daughter and Pan says he will give her a real kiss (as opposed to the token he gave to Wendy) as it's hinted that he will grow up and marry her. I had a record of the play I'd listen to all the time as a child long before I ever saw the Disney movie. Hook was the sequel I'd always imagined.

hushicho at 1:23PM, Aug. 10, 2023

I found Hook had some decent ideas, but I don't think it does any of them well, and its fundamental question is one I find fairly lazy. Let's do the one thing this character was created not to do, except not really for a reason we justify! That said, I agree it can be a really interesting thing to explore in creative work, whatever my feelings on that singular movie. It is also something I think about philosophically, like you've touched upon here, and spiritually -- there's a more interesting question, what if we do wake up as ourselves, but more so, after this physical experience of spiritual or at least thoughtform beings? Interesting topics to ruminate on.

Jason Moon at 9:12AM, Aug. 10, 2023

One of my favorite childhood movies. " No stopping me this time, Smee! This is it. Don't make a move Smee, not a step. My finger's on the trigger!"

EssayBee at 7:38AM, Aug. 10, 2023

Perfect Blue is another great movie dealing heavily with identity and losing touch with it (and reality). (Can't go wrong with anything by Satoshi Kon, and pretty much all of his work deals with breakdowns between reality and identity/fiction.)

EssayBee at 7:33AM, Aug. 10, 2023

Dark City (which The Matrix reused some of its sets) is not just a great example of playing with memories but one of my all-time favorite movies. Hook is a great movie (and one of John Williams's best scores, IMO), although I liked it better when I got older than when I was a teenager and saw it in the theater. I read an article about how it's a movie Spielberg still doesn't like, although it's one of his kids' favorites.

skyangel at 4:35AM, Aug. 10, 2023

I love that last line about the 'waking up' My own imagination feels very inspired by it.

PaulEberhardt at 3:39AM, Aug. 10, 2023

While partial amnesia (Dude, Where's My Car?) seems to avoid this "nature vs nurture" thing, there's still the question if the same people would act according to the same pattern twice, which I think is closely connected to it. And of course, you'll usually want partial amnesia in fiction - who the heck would want to watch a grown-up protagonist go through potty training and learning to speak and tie their shoes before you get to the action and actual plot? That you're able to omit certain things is the beauty of thought experiments.

PaulEberhardt at 3:34AM, Aug. 10, 2023

This trope is fascinating, period, no matter whether you use it for mystery, comedy or anything else. It can also have a pretty deep philosophical angle, if you ask me, because there is always this link to the age-old "nature versus nurture" debate: if you wipe clean somebody's memory and experiences, will they end up essentially as the same person (= your nature defines who you are - e.g. Hook) or as a different one (= circumstances you live in define who you are - e.g. Angel Heart)? All these stories raise this question to some extent and find their own answer by the way they play out (unless the hero never finds out anything, and what kind of story would that be?), so as an author you are more or less forced to take sides. Since characters are supposed to develop, most seem to choose "nurture", but there are many possible shades (Bourne Identity, kind of).

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