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Memory is a reconstruction

Memory is a reconstruction

When art meets science

Who: Ewout Meijer, Forensic Psychologist

Film: Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman

Target group: students of Psychology

Two Israeli friends talk about their time in the army. They took part in the Israeli invasion in Lebanon in 1982. While the one tells of the nightmares that have haunted him since then, the other realises that he actually has no real memories of his time as a soldier. He decides to go and find his former comrades, to reconstruct his memory from their stories.

This is how Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli film from 2008, starts. It is an authentic search by the director, Ari Folman. He fought in Lebanon. “All characters in the film – except for two, I believe – are based on real people,” says Ewout Meijer. “Their own voices were also recorded for their characters.” The film is actually an animated cartoon. “At first I thought it might be a bit much, I didn’t know if I could stay interested for a whole hour and a half.” But looking back, Meijer thinks that this form is actually better than if real actors had played the parts or if Folman had made a traditional documentary. “It is done wonderfully well. The images fit in well with the story.”

Meijer remarked how very undramatic the film is. “The main character seems mainly driven by curiosity. The events that he witnessed were very dramatic but his approach is neutral. Nothing in his life shows that he functions badly or has a trauma.” According to Meijer, this raises the question that is interesting for psychologists: Is that possible? “People are inclined to say that it is a case of repression, a way for him to deal with it. But maybe it is possible. Maybe you can forget something like that.”

Friends of the main character advise him against digging into the events: they think that he can still be traumatised. “Research into memories is also quoted, such as an experiment in which people are shown a photoshopped picture from their childhood. They are in the photograph in surroundings where they have never been. But because they think that the photograph is real they say that they remember that they were there.”

What Meijer wants to say is that memory is not a hard disk that can be used to store information, from which the same information is retrieved later on. “It is always a reconstruction of stories, just like this film.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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