How to Remember Movies Fondly, Even When They Stink

Try watching a few movies you only saw once or twice when you were a kid and see how well you remember them. Not only will you remember them differently than other people, but you might have even rewritten the movies themselves in your head.

Memory is a very subjective thing. Everyone remembers events differently. Some people, often without consciously meaning to, change their own memories to fit their unique proclivities. This is one of the reasons why eye-witness testimony is so notoriously unreliable.

People change their memories of life to suit their preferred version of reality often enough, but it’s more shocking with movies because you can actually watch them later and find out you changed everything in your mind. It’s scary, but (in the case of movies, anyway) not entirely a bad thing.

I first saw Hitchcock’s Spiral Staircase when I was little. I thought it was a memorable movie and remembered it as being great. The problem? I watched the movie just a little while ago and it turns out that the movie I remembered was mostly made up in my own mind. In my version, the hero was a policeman who got involved in the situation just because he liked the mute girl, and the villain was the country doctor. The heroine still couldn’t talk, but the ending was like this:

The doctor talks to the mute girl on the grand staircase in the main house, gradually revealing his nuttiness. Meanwhile, the hero comes up and knocks on the door, calling to the girl. The girl tries to get away, but the doctor grabs her and they struggle. The hero idles outside, unknowingly. Just as the doctor’s hands begin to close around her throat, and the hero outside turns away to leave, she wells up her effort and forces out a grating scream. The hero bursts in the door and vanquishes the evil doctor.

My memory of How Green Was My Valley was similarly modified. In my version, O’Hara’s character and the preacher loved each other, but she was too devoted to taking care of her family to consider leaving. At the end of the film, the boy starts to work and she finally marries him.

If you’ve seen either of these movies, you know how far from the actual stories my versions were. And it is a bit unnerving to think that my young self was capable of re-writing the memories of movies for the sake of my own enjoyment and idealism to such a degree. It makes me wonder how much, if at all, I did that to reality – and what that implies reality must have been like. This said, I really wish that those movies had been made the way I misremembered them. They would have been so much better.

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