Mental Illness has for a long time had a stigma about it, in not only real life but how it is portrayed on screen. Finding Dory is a movie that gives us a glimpse into what it is like for people who suffer from anterograde amnesia, the daily struggles and emotions that are felt. We get to see the growth of the character from childhood to adult and how the disorder affected her along the way. This story has a lot of truth behind it for being a fictional cartoon, we are going to ‘dive’ a little deeper into what really is going on in the mid of a person with anterograde amnesia.
Finding Dory: What Can A Fish Teach Us About Memory
We as a people tend to treat and think of people with mental illness in a negative way. This is partly do to how most mental illness is portrayed on screen for the world to see. Dark, scary, angry and usually a criminal of some sort. None of these are remotely close to Dory however, she is a bright blue, loving, comical Blue Tang. She also happens to suffer from anterograde amnesia, which is a complete loss of being able to form new memories (Anterograde Amnesia: Symptoms, Causes, Illness & Condition. 2019). In essence she lives five minutes at a time. Through Dory kids get their first glimpse into a mental illness and just what impact it can have on a person’s daily life.
A Fish Named Dory … I Think?
The movie actually is the second time we meet our blue finned friend. Dory was a part of the original motion picture Finding Nemo. However, she was not the main character. This time she is front and center of it all, in fact Dory and her memory issue (anterograde amnesia) is the whole driving story plot. She is on a search for her parents who she lost long ago due to wondering off and then forgetting where she was from and even who her parents were. No longer are we encouraged to laugh at Dory’s forgetfulness; instead, we see her insecurities and begin to sympathize with her as we see the world through Dory’s eyes.
Through flashbacks, we see Dory’s struggle with her memory and get frustrated as her parents try to teach her basic life skills. Her parents are caring and supportive, but live with constant worry that Dory won’t be able to adapt to adult life. Dory is scared of the what the future may hold and asks her parents, ‘What if I forget you? Would you ever forget me?’. Though Dory is often seen as comical and carefree, she knows that her memory problems are a constant source of frustration and worry for those she meets.
Finding Dory captures not only the difficulties experienced by someone with anterograde amnesia but also the struggle for others to understand the condition. Nemo (the clown fish star of the original film) supports her and accepts that Dory has a different way of handling situations due to her disability. Like many others living with mental disabilities, people with anterograde amnesia need a support of family and friends to aid in recovery.
Luckily, Dory’s disability doesn’t prevent her from being optimistic and determined. With understanding and support, Dory is able to overcome many obstacles that she faces in her adventure, as well as daily life. Finding Dory shows that whether you’re a blue tang fish with amnesia or a nearsighted whale shark, our differences don’t need to stop us from being happy, especially with the support of others. ‘Just Keep Swimming’.
Definition of Anterograde Amnesia
Anterograde amnesia is a condition in which a person is unable to create new memories after an amnesia-inducing event (Cuncic, A. 2019). There can be a complete inability to form new memories, or just a partial one of events that have taken place. The earlier memories that were formed prior to the event that triggers amnesia will remain unaffected. A person who suffers from this disease will likely ask questions over and over, that have been answered, as well as completely forget meeting people. It is common for them to have completely forgotten the who, what, where, when and why of any situation they find themselves in.
The cause of amnesia is usually a traumatic injury to the hippocampus or medial temporal lobe of the brain. This is the most common cause, but it is not the only way memory can be affected. Some other causes are injury’s that limit the amount of oxygen getting to the brain such as stroke, myocardial infarction or concussion. New information from the time of injury is not retained. The time limit of how long the information is held varies and is not dependent based upon injury type, it can be minutes to days and is individualized to each case (Smith, C. N., Frascino, J. C., Hopkins, R. O., & Squire, L. R. 2013).
What the Movie Gets Right
Finding Dory does a very good job at showing us the struggles of both the person who suffers from a mental disease and those who interact with them. The frustration and anger not only within the person as they feel ‘trapped’ in their own minds, but the people who love and care about the persons wellbeing. We are shown that her parents use many forms of teaching and memory games to help Dory navigate her daily life. They use repetition, pneumonic games, and even songs to help Dory retain as much information as possible. This same method is used for people who suffer from amnesia. Studies find that even though people and places are affected, the learning of skills and other procedural memory functions remain partially intact (Anterograde Amnesia 2019).
What the Movie Gets Wrong
While Finding Dory gets a lot right in the portrayal of how a person handles daily life with amnesia, it does get a few things very wrong.
First, Dory seems have been born with this issue, there is no mention of a traumatic event that would have triggered her amnesia. If she was in fact born with anterograde amnesia, she would never be able to form a memory of her parents and others she came in contact with. Most cases of anterograde amnesia are caused by a trauma or at least a definable event that impairs the brains function to make new memories.
Second, anterograde amnesia does not have a known cure. In fact, as time goes on the memories often get worse. The longer a person suffers from anterograde amnesia, the less time they have to hold onto new information. Dory however, gets better and her memory improves as the story progresses, now it being a children’s movie and made by Disney, it had to have a happy ending. The sad reality is that most of the people with this disease never recover.
Most of the time we see the portrayal of mental illnesses as plot devices used in a negative way. Its only purpose being, to have the bad guy have an issue that can explain his actions; mental illness is an easy target for this. The negative stigma mental illness has makes it that much harder for those who suffer from these types of disease to seek treatment and even talk to others about what is affecting them. It is nice to see that in the case of Finding Dory, there was a positive message being used. Not only was the illness shown in a truthful way, it was shown in a positive light. Kids were shown that there are people in this world that face things we can’t always see, and with a little understanding and patience we can help improve not only their lives, but ours as well.
- Anterograde Amnesia: Symptoms, Causes, Illness & Condition. (2019, September 27). Retrieved from https://human-memory.net/anterograde-amnesia/
- Cuncic, A. (2019, July 19). Anterograde Amnesia Makes It Impossible to Remember New Things. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-anterograde-amnesia-4581313.
- Rohaidi, N. (2016, July 8). What Finding Dory Teaches Us About Memory Loss. Retrieved from https://www.asianscientist.com/2016/07/features/finding-dory-memory-loss-anterograde-amnesia/.
- Smith, C. N., Frascino, J. C., Hopkins, R. O., & Squire, L. R. (2013, November). The nature of anterograde and retrograde memory impairment after damage to the medial temporal lobe. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3837701/.