Brandon's Notepad

October 25, 2014

Remembering Differently


I watched a movie that I saw only once before, many years ago, and though the plot was the same, the scenes looked completely different from what I remember. Is this just a product of faulty memory, a function of time, or something else?

That Night

It was a Friday, the thirteenth of some month of some year now long forgotten. I was staying up late with my grandfather watching a spooky movie on television, parts of which I remember quite vividly. There was an accident, a man’s family killed by a truck in the snow, a haunted house, and a ghost of a boy who was once confined to a wheelchair whose body was dumped in a well. I didn’t catch the name of the film at the time, but I enjoyed it so much that I declared that Friday the 13th was actually a lucky day indeed for my having seen it.

The Sketchy Details

For whatever reason, I failed to consult the television listings in the previous day’s paper, and therefore, lost the easy opportunity to identify the film. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I resolved to find it on video cassette, that I felt the frustration of tracking down an obscure movie based on a few sketchy details. This was well before the days of the Internet, so I couldn’t just ‘Google it’. No, I had to find someone who remembered it well enough to name it based on the description of a few scenes. I eventually gave up, figuring that I would eventually encounter it again, either on television or in the movie rental store.

The Discovery

I wouldn’t say I forgot about the movie, but it wasn’t on the top of mind by any means. I might’ve even searched online for it once or twice, but it wasn’t until sometime in the late Twenty-aughts that I struck gold. I don’t recall now what search criteria led to the discovery, but couldn’t wait another minute to locate a copy. As it happened, a used book store near my parents’ house had a copy, so I asked them to hold it for me and then phoned my mother to ask her if she wouldn’t mind picking it up. A family get-together had been planned for that weekend, so within a few short days, I was the proud owner of a DVD copy of The Changeling starring George C. Scott.

The Surprise

We watched the film. As an adult, I had a much better appreciation for the overall plot, and all of the scenes I remembered from some fifteen or twenty years before were all there. There was only one problem. This was not the film I remembered seeing before. Yes, the scenes were there, but they were not the same! First of all, I could’ve sworn that the movie was filmed in black-and-white (not because it was old, but as a matter of style). The main character wasn’t, in my memory, an old man with grey wispy hair, but a younger, dark-haired man resembling Neil Diamond. The house was smaller and far more modern. For example, the scene where the protagonist throws a ball down a flight of stairs and someone (or something) throws the ball back, it travelled impossibly around a corner and up a well-lit stairwell, not a grand wood staircase in a darkened foyer. It wasn’t just a few scenes either. The entire movie was just wrong.

Possible Explanations

The first thought that popped into my head was that the film I just watched, which was released in 1980, was either an original or a remake. The other, black-and-white version could have been filmed in the ’60s. This would explain the difference in the architecture of the house (stark modern being very in vogue at the time) and any number of other variances. Alternatively, if this were an original, perhaps an adaptation had been produced for television, which would have undoubtedly had a much lower budget. Subsequent Web searches and discussion with horror movie aficionados have revealed absolutely no evidence that either of these explanations are true. All other explanations reside in the realm of my own head. Maybe the film spooked me more than I remember as a child and I did not actually watch, but only listened to it, providing my own mental screenplay. Or, perhaps my memories just simply changed over time, the scenes replaying in my mind without the reenforcement of the film itself to help me remember how it really looked.

New Questions

The thought has crossed my mind that this issue could be psychological, though I have no actual evidence to support this notion. This movie represents is the only occurence of this phenomenon in my own life that I know of, but then, I haven’t made an effort to find any others. Also, I have been unsuccessful in finding any accounts from others who have experienced the sort of same thing. While writing this post, I read through the Wikipedia article on visual memory, but it provided no insight, no revelations. Maybe someday I will have an opportunity to ask a professional if this is an identified condition, and if I do then I will provide an update here.

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