Everyone’s familiar with the fictional trope of sudden onset amnesia. The Skipper gets conked on the head with a coconut on Gilligan’s Island—oops!—and he’s quickly convinced he’s a hula dancer, Godzilla, or Mrs. Howell. That is, until he gets conked on the head all over again. But TV, film, and games have provided viewers with ample examples of how to maximize your time with amnesia (the trumped up fictional version, at least), lest those precious and confused hours be spent merely dazed. Use these examples next time you find yourself scientifically robbed of your memories or winged by a fast-moving New York City taxi.

Stumble into a career in advertising: The Muppets Take Manhattan

Struck by a car and rendered unable to even remember his own name, let alone that he and his friends were in the middle of launching a Broadway musical, a dazed Kermit The Frog stumbled into a career in advertising after taking a wrong turn in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Though he was originally looking for the Gordon Employment Agency, Kermit—now going by Phillip Phil, a name he picked off a poster on the wall—falls in with Gil, Bill, and Jill, a group of Madison Avenue frogs tasked with promoting Ocean Breeze Soap. Their agency is floundering, but Kermit/Phil’s fresh take on truth in advertising (“Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean.”) marks him as a new star in the gray suited, corporate product game. He’d probably have done well with it, had Miss Piggy not knocked him back into sanity later in the film. [Marah Eakin]

Advertisement

Detail your life’s happenings via tattoo: Memento

Leonard (Guy Pearce) suffers from anterograde amnesia after being attacked by two men raping and killing his wife. But that doesn’t stop Leonard from trying to find the attacker that got away. So what’s a guy who can’t remember anything from one day to the next to do? Make himself a permanent reminder note by tattooing facts of the case on his body, augmented by Polaroids and notes reminding him of where he’s been. But sweet tats don’t mean that Leonard has solved his memory problems. Leonard’s journey demonstrates the inherent unreliability of memory, even if its vehicle of delivery is immutable. [Molly Eichel]

Advertisement

Stumble around for a couple of episodes until the writers come to their senses and pretend it never happened: 24

While contemporary serialized dramas’ storylines are planned weeks, or sometimes years in advance, the writers for the first season of 24 had a seat-of-their-pants approach that could take the show in unpredictable directions, some good, some not so good. The season puts Teri, Jack Bauer’s somewhat-estranged wife, through the wringer, as she suffers through grounded, traumatic stories involving kidnapping, rape, and fearing both of those and worse may befall her teenage daughter Kim. So the shift in tone was jarring when the writers decided to throw a far sillier plot twist her way: After believing Kim is killed in an explosion, Teri suffers amnesia. She stumbles through two episodes or so, not remembering who she is or what happened to her daughter, until the writers come to their senses and she snaps out of it. [Mike Vago]

Murder a bunch of people, including (hopefully) the ones who gave you amnesia: Robocop, The Bourne Identity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine

What’s worse than being betrayed and left for dead? Being betrayed, left for dead, and not remembering how it happened. Whether you’re sent on a suicide mission by superiors looking for a dead body to use in an experimental weapons program, like Officer Murphy in Robocop, bumped off by superiors looking to cover up a different experimental weapons program, like in The Bourne Identity, or had your memory intentionally erased by yet another experimental weapons program, like in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s only one thing to do—murder as many people as possible. Eventually, you’ll get around to the ones responsible, although if you’re looking to put your old life back together, don’t expect more than a few hazy flashbacks and a lifelong distaste for experimental weapons programs. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

Spend the rest of your life in an existential hell where you meet-cute with Adam Sandler every day: 50 First Dates

Losing both your treasured memories and very sense of self is a difficult enough fate for an amnesia victim. But psychological horror movie 50 First Dates ups the cruelty to unbearable levels. What if you had no ability to form new memories, no sense of your past or of the passage of time, and were caught in an endless loop of quickly forgotten days… in which you were romanced over and over by Adam Sandler? Drew Barrymore has to not only live out this terrifying scenario, she has to spend time with Sandler’s friend Rob Schneider. Maybe some memories are best erased after all. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

Get tricked by an alien and destroy some Lysians: Star Trek: The Next Generation

Some of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s best episodes were mystery episodes, where Worf would have hallucinations, or Dr. Crusher would start losing track of people, and the viewer was left to puzzle what was happening for 40 minutes, until a pseudoscience-heavy reveal in the third act. One of the simplest of these was season five’s “Conundrum,” in which the crew awakes with no memory, and no computer records of who they are. Most of the crew manage to figure out what their roles on the ship are, but Worf assumes he’s the captain and takes charge. Ensign Ro, who wakes up next to Commander Riker, assumes they’re dating, and never-before-seen Commander MacDuff insists they continue their mission to destroy the also-never-seen-before Lysians and sort out their memories later. When the Enterprise easily dispatches a few Lysian ships, Picard (who eventually realizes he’s the captain) wonders why their enemies are so overmatched and has misgivings about destroying the Lysian home base. In the end, it turns out MacDuff is a disguised alien. His people had been in a protracted war with the Lysians, and he erased the crew’s memories, hoping he could trick the Enterprise into tipping the balance of power. [Mike Vago]

Advertisement

Stare into mirrors over and over and over and over: Unknown

In the 2006 thriller Unknown, five men wake up with amnesia in a warehouse, in various bruised and battered states, and some odd positions: one tied to a chair, one cuffed to a railing, and so forth. What do you do when you have no clue who you are or who you can trust, and when you’re in the hands of a screenwriter with exactly one trick up his sleeve? Go stare grimly at yourself in a grimy mirror, and wait for the flashback to hit. Reflections in Unknown are what head-bonking coconuts were in Gilligan’s Island: a magic memory carpet ride. Everyone who visits the dirty bathroom mirror to stare deeply into his own eyes gets a useful flashback in return, as if they’re all dropping pennies into a reliable gumball machine; some even successfully visit the flashback-mirror more than once. Eventually, everyone’s memories come back and the backstory falls into place, but it seems like everyone could have saved a lot of shouting and stress just by lining up at the mirror in the first place, and glowering at it extra-fervently until it gave up all its secrets at once. [Tasha Robinson]

Sit passively in a hospital bed while your brother falls in love with a sociopath pretending to be your fiancée: While You Were Sleeping

Sandra Bullock’s Lucy saves the life of handsome stranger Peter (Peter Gallagher), pulling his unconscious body from the tracks of an oncoming train. After accompanying him to the hospital, her wistful fantasy—“I was going to marry him”—leads to an entire film premised on a simple misunderstanding, one that Bullock’s character, because she clearly has severe psychological problems, chooses not to correct. Instead, she pretends to be his fiancée, ingratiates herself with his family, and—once he wakes from his coma—proceeds to convince even Gallagher himself that they’re engaged. Peter probably would’ve been fine, had Lucy’s long-con not enabled everyone to convince him that he is obviously suffering from selective amnesia (that most common of ailments). Thankfully, he dodges a bullet here, as Lucy spends the duration of Peter’s coma falling in love with his brother, Jack (Bill Pullman), leading to the inevitable climactic confession of her feelings in front of the whole family. Then again, Peter is no prize himself, having already proposed to a married woman prior to the accident. On second thought, some selective amnesia might be best for all concerned. [Alex McCown]

Advertisement

Get tricked into becoming a better person: Overboard

When spoiled heiress Goldie Hawn gets amnesia, Kurt Russell pretends she’s his wife, kidnaps her, and forces her to take care of him and this three rowdy sons. What should’ve been the plot of a deeply disturbing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode is played entirely for laughs in Overboard, and what makes it worse is that, when the heiress does get her memory back, she decides she’s happier with her new life as a wife, mother, and un-horrible human being. It’s an unsettling experiment in brainwashing, but it at least suggests a possible life direction for amnesia victims. By forgetting lifelong patterns of behavior, Hawn takes the first step down the road to redemption: Namely, she becomes easily manipulated by a handsome liar who wants to exploit her for his own selfish reasons. [Zack Handlen]

Advertisement

Pretend to be your dead best friend and become a badass fake mercenary: Final Fantasy VII

Retired super-soldier and fighter-for-hire Cloud Strife cuts an imposing figure when he bursts onto Final Fantasy VII’s opening screen, backflipping off of a train like the most badass dude to ever fight robots while wearing baggy purple pajamas. But it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well behind Cloud’s mercenary facade: He’s hearing voices, his childhood friend Tifa seems oddly concerned about him, and he’s haunted by visions of his nemesis, the white-haired murder machine Sephiroth. That’s because Cloud’s memories of being a member of the Shinra Power Company’s elite SOLDIER unit aren’t his; they’re imitations of his best friend, the equally improbably spiky-haired Zack. Cloud absorbed the memories after the combined trauma of Zack’s death, Sephiroth’s betrayal, and years of brutal science experiments rendered him a catatonic zombie. He’s then returned to that state after Sephiroth tricks him into handing over a world-destroying magical artifact and reveals that Cloud’s been living a lie. It’s only through Tifa’s efforts, delving into Cloud’s subconscious to learn the truth behind his past, that he’s able to recover and lead his team of world-saving heroes as his true, remembered self. [William Hughes]

Get bonked on the head again to fix it: Gilligan’s Island, Escape From Monkey Island, and many more

Amnesia from a blow to the head is so venerable a plot device that it appeared not once, but twice, on Gilligan’s Island, the Hall Of Fame for well-worn TV clichés. But repairing the damage through another blow—think of it as the homeopathic approach to brain trauma—is a little more rare (of the two, only “Forget Me Not,” from the show’s first season, went this route). But for the epitome of kinetic desert island memory repair, you have to look to the pleasantly torturous logic of computer adventure games. Escape From Monkey Island, the fourth chapter of Lucasart’s beloved series of pirate comedies, presents hero Guybrush Threepwood with a triple-case of amnesia in the form of series mainstay Herman Toothrot, resident hermit of the titled island. Herman has lost his memory in stages, with each set of memories beginning with the old coot waking up next to a particular heavy object. Guybrush has to find these deadly mind erasers in sequential order and chuck them at Herman’s head again, undoing the successive stages of amnesia through blow after blow. It culminates in a brutal wonking with an accordion that reveals Herman to be Guybrush’s grandfather-in-law, Captain Horatio Marley, keeper of yet another secret of Monkey Island (a retcon to the series’ story that a lot of fans would like to forget themselves). [William Hughes]

Advertisement

Devour the entire population of New York City and rebuild your memories from theirs: Prototype

Protagonist amnesia is a long-standing tradition in video games to help with player immersion, but few games find a more violent solution to it than 2009’s Prototype. After losing the majority of his memories when a freak accident mixes his blood with an experimental bioweapon called Blacklight, Alex Mercer discovers he is now able to consume humans, absorbing their abilities and their memories at the same time. What follows is a macabre scavenger hunt as Mercer leaps, slashes, and claws his way across a plague-ridden New York City to track down key scientists and military figures. He devours them in violent fashion, suffers the sort of headache you get after eating ice cream too fast, and is flooded with images of their inhuman experiments and military protocols that he uses to piece the conspiracy together. He’s so good at hunting the morally bankrupt that by the time Prototype 2 rolls around, whatever personality he once had is entirely subsumed into the Blacklight hive mind, determined to consume all of mankind. You are what you eat, it would appear. [Les Chappell]

Advertisement

Take on the persona of a celebrity interviewer: Mystery Science Theater 3000

The population of the Satellite Of Love was no stranger to losing their minds and taking on an alternate persona, be it the characters from countless terrible films or film-inspired constructions as random as a poultry-counting superhero. And occasionally, these identity crises didn’t even need a movie trigger. In the cold open to season nine’s Werewolf,” Mike Nelson tripped over Tom Servo’s yam collection and bonked his head, and when he woke up believed himself to be Inside The Actors Studio host James Lipton. Nelson went on to interview Crow as Ray Liotta and Servo as William Katt, perfectly capturing Lipton’s interview style and dulcet tones: “Are you really a ‘goodfella?’ Joe Pesci’s mother made you weep, how? You called Kevin Dobson your real reason for living, can you tell me why?” As is customary on the SOL, the bots ended Mike’s blissful fantasy by way of a blunt object—a clown hammer in this case—and deprived him of the chance to ask Werewolf star Joe Estevez just what pearls of wisdom or soup recipes Tony Zarindast had to offer. [Les Chappell]

Advertisement

Adopt the identity of someone with the exact same voice as you: Archer

It’s a testament to H. Jon Benjamin that he can voice two of animation’s funniest titular characters—Archer’s jackass super-spy Sterling Archer and Bob’s Burgers’s downtrodden chef Bob Belcher—and make them diametrically opposed personalities without altering his cadence. Archer took full advantage of this gift in season four’s “Fugue And Riffs,” when Archer experienced a psychotic break following his mother’s marriage to Ron Cadillac. He disappeared into the apron and sweatpants of Bob for two months, his spy instincts only stirring back to life when KGB assassins tracked him down and he dispatched them using the tools of the grill cook. His impassioned speech to the Belcher family is a marvelous bit of work for Benjamin, the selfishness of the Archer persona serving as the id of fundamentally decent Bob, while also betraying the fact that Archer is in fact capable of empathy when his asshole shields aren’t at full strength. (Those shields—and his memory—were reset when a frustrated Lana cracked him over the head with a frying pan.) Bob’s Burgers has yet to return the favor, but given Bob’s love of alcohol and talking to inanimate objects, it’s not a stretch to picture him cracking under pressure and thinking he’s a secret agent. [Les Chappell]

Advertisement

Ditch your journalism job for a gig as a seductive lounge singer and run off with your beau’s arch enemy: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman

After being hit by a car, Lois Lane forgets she’s a crack reporter and instead assumes the persona of a character she dreamt up for a novel: the glamorous Wanda Detroit, a seductive lounge-jazz singer who takes up residence at Ace O’ Clubs. Lex Luthor quickly realizes what’s going on and tells the chanteuse he’s Kent, the beau Wanda lusts after in the book. Naturally, she falls head over heels for him and spurns Clark Kent when the latter finally catches up to the pair, who drive away and leave Clark fuming with frustration. The situation eventually comes to a head in a confrontation in Luthor’s lair. Lex orders Lois-as-Wanda to kill Clark-as-Superman, but she can’t bring herself to do the deed. As an explosion rocks the space, she’s rescued and gets bonked on the head—bringing back all of her memories except the ones associated with her real-life engagement to Clark. After a few more episodes dragging out this identity confusion, Lois finally remembers her beloved—and the happy couple get on with their ever-dramatic lives. [Annie Zaleski]

Advertisement