The Lost Mariner: A Beautiful Animated Short Film About Memory, Inspired by Oliver Sacks
By Maria Popova
“My work, my life, is all with the sick — but the sick and their sickness drives me to thoughts which, perhaps, I might otherwise not have,” Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 10, 2015) wrote in his 1985 classic The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales (public library) — perhaps the most influential treatise on the perplexities of memory, which solidified Dr. Sacks as the Dante of medicine and the clinical case study as his high poetic form. “Constantly my patients drive me to question, and constantly my questions drive me to patients,” he wrote.
One of those patients was Jimmie G. — a “charming, intelligent, memoryless” man admitted into New York City’s Home for the Aged with only an unfeeling transfer note stating, “Helpless, demented, confused and disoriented.” Jimmie G. is the subject of the second chapter, titled “The Lost Mariner,” which Dr. Sacks opens with an epigraph from the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel:
You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all… Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.
In the beautiful short film The Lost Mariner, independent animator Tess Martin brings Jimmie G.’s rare memory condition to life using photograph cutouts and live action. The effect is a stunning visual analog to the disorienting see-saw of reality and unreality constantly rocking those bedeviled by memory impairments, exposing the discomfiting yet strangely assuring truth in Buñuel’s words.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat remains one of the most intellectually and emotionally invigorating books published in the twentieth century. Complement it with Dr. Sacks’s magnificent autobiography, one of the best books of 2015, and his unforgettable account of how he saved his own life through literature and song, then see artist Cecilia Ruiz’s illustrated meditation on memory’s imperfections.
Published December 23, 2015