The first Romantic Comedy I ever saw, 50 First Dates, with Adam Sandler and Drew Berrymore, actually has a surprising amount of real psychology in it. The basic plot revolves around Berrymore’s character who is involved in an accident which causes “a loss of her short term memory” as described by the film. Because of this, her memory only lasts a day. Every night as she sleeps her brain reboots back to the day her amnesia began. Sandler’s character falls for her, but has to continuously reintroduce himself to her thus causing them to have their first date over and over, hence the title.
So, what about the movie is realistic? Most of it actually. The name of her disease in the film, Goldfield’s Syndrome, is totally bogus and made up, however the disease is real. It is a condition called anterograde amnesia. It is a condition cause by some sort of brain damage, most often to the hippocampus, the area closely associated with memory storage. Berrymore’s character’s condition began the day of her car accident and continued from there. When people have this condition, they get stuck in time just like she did. Their brains can encode new memories and store them, however they are unable to access those new memories, only the ones they ad before the damage occurred. So, the person doesn’t realize the memories exist and perpetually believes it is the day the amnesia began.
Another amnesia victim in the movie is also portrayed, although comically, very accurately. “10 second Tom” had the same condition that Barrymore’s character does, but much more severely. Though it leads to some funny thing, the condition is actually very sad and very realistic despite seeming ludicrous. People really can have a condition like this. The most famous case id an English man named Clive Wearing who could essentially only remember for 7 seconds. He had to be hospitalized and his family eventually quit visiting him because he didn’t recognize them anymore or acknowledge any of their past visits.
What about that cheesy, adorable Hollywood ending where Berrymore’s love is real and she paints pictures of Sandler despite not being able to remember him? Anterograde amnesia patients do encode memories; they just can’t actively retrieve them. They can still be affected by these memories though even though they can’t necessarily recall them. In Clive’s case, he didn’t recognize his children, but he did recognize his wife despite her aging twenty or thirty years. He also never showed surprise that she had aged whenever she visited him. He also never showed surprise when he looked in the mirror and saw that he had become an old man. However, when his condition first began he was continually scared, angry, and forlorn, but seemed to get used to it as it progressed for years.
Even though the ending is super cheesy and the film overall is cheesy as well the portrayal of anterograde amnesia is actually pretty accurate. Barrymore’s character could somehow unconsciously remember Sandler’s character and her love for him.