As both time capsules and collections of ideas and thoughts from the artists and craftsman who lived in their era, films serve as both.
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It’s clear from this list of films that the search for transcendence or truth is at the heart of the examination of memory itself. As part of an online community, this list includes films from 1941’s Citizen Kane and 1942’s How Green Was My Valley to 2012’sThe Act of Killing.
As a literary and arts quarterly launched in 1989 to show how well-made art and writing that engages meaningfully with ancient faiths in the West may be produced now, Image sponsors the Top 25 Films on Memory. It is now one of the most widely read literary journals in the English language, and it serves as a hub for a vibrant community. Find out more about Image by clicking here.
1. Rashôman (1950), Akira Kurosawa
Every narrative has three sides, according to the saying: yours, mine, and the whole truth. Even though there are at least four characters involved in Akira Kurosawa’s first international success, they all have motives to cover up or lie about what happened in order to protect themselves and their families from the consequences of the crime they were accused of committing. However, Kurosawa’s subsequent film, Ikiru (1952), shows that he wasn’t done with the theme of subjective and even self-serving memory: a succession of testimonies converge in a collective memory that is more than the sum of its parts.
2. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), Alain Resnais
Memories of World War II, notably the Hiroshi bombings, haunt an actress from France (Emmanuelle Riva) and an architect from Japan (Eiji Okada). It’s no coincidence that the director, Alain Resnais, goes back and forth between these two characters’ memories, yet their very different perceptions lead to arguments. Finally, they finally face the one thing they’ve been avoiding all these years: the one thing that has caused them both so much pain.
3. Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock
Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece on the dangers of memory, is still one of the best. When investigator Scottie Ferguson fails to solve a series of cases, she constructs an idol of memory and becomes enslaved to the past in this spiral-shaped narrative. An unnerving love story is born from his dark obsession: a guy and the picture of the deceased woman he is trying to recreate.
4. Wild Strawberries (1958), Ingmar Bergman
“Wild Strawberries,” a film by Ingmar Bergman that blends intimate drama with expressionistic dream sequences, takes place over the course of an epic road trip. Traveling to receive an honor for his life’s work, Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) is greeted by both strangers and recollections of his past. The memories and dreams we have accumulated shape our reaction to the present if we are forced to live in it. However, memories can provide joy, optimism, or even calm if they are used in the right way.
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Michel Gondry
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind mixes Michel Gondry’s DIY exuberance and Charlie Kaufman’s existential hyperactivity in a picture that is, ostensibly, about a brain injury. To avoid the combined nostalgia and sorrow that Clementine (Kate Winslet) conjures up, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) decides to erase any memories of her. Joel knows that erasing Clem would leave him with a stunted soul, so he goes on a desperate quest through his personal mnemonic funhouse to preserve their past and his humanity as the technicians of Lacuna, Inc. begin their job.
6. Three Colors: Blue (1993), Krzysztof Kieślowski
Julie (Juliette Binoche in her defining role) is the protagonist of the first film of Kielowski’s “Colors Trilogy,” which deals with a French widow who lost her husband and son in a vehicle accident. Julie’s post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself in a state of complete isolation, as she refuses to interact with anyone from her past, so avoiding any ties to her real life and the pain that now resides within. Secrets, emotional relationships, and music itself will continue to haunt Julie regardless of whether she has a new life or not, forcing her to face her own grief and that of others. The film’s score, which was “created” by a fictional figure in the plot, will be remembered for years to come.
7. The Mirror (1975), Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo (The Mirror) is a flood of memories and dreams engraved like cave paintings in the head of Tarkovsky. There are three possibilities: it might be a tribute to his mother, a manner of depicting Russian history via poetry of personal experience, or it could be an expression of his theological mystery, which is what has fascinated him throughout his life. Malick, Von Trier, Zvyagintsev and Nolan are just a few of the directors who have used it as a compass in their work.
8. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott
a spider and her egg, a unicorn racing through a woodland, and C-beams shimmering in the dark Throughout Blade Runner, the film explores the future realms of evolving and synthetic memory, in the story of a detective who is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” four Replicants who illegally return to Earth, and whose memories of a mother are erased. While searching, he finds himself pulled to a fifth, newer species of product; one for whom memory has delivered a horrible lie. He must re-examine his ideas of what makes a human. Artificial memory is introduced in Blade Runner, which raises problems about trust in memory and argues that a hunter becomes the guardian of his prey’s most valuable remembrances because of this.
9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), John Ford
Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Vera Miles (Vera Miles) go across the country to a frontier town to attend the burial of a local rancher (John Wayne). John Ford confirms and dispels the fabled vision of the American West he helped build through Ranse’s recollections. But the film’s famous final sentiment—that “when the legend becomes fact, publish the legend”—extends beyond the filmographic metaphor, revealing how we modify our memories to tell the stories we believe we need to tell.
10. Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has long been regarded as one of cinema’s greatest works, but it is also a masterclass in the use of the filmic flashback. To find out what Kane’s final phrase, “Rosebud,” means, reporter Thompson and the audience are taken on a journey that takes them through a series of interviews with people who had the opportunity to meet Kane. Consider your own mortality, the memories you leave behind, and the extent to which you can be known by others through those recollections.
11. How Green Was My Valley (1941), John Ford
Blackened by coal dust, the images of How Green Was My Valley are entombed in a landscape of class warfare and death. It’s clear from the audio of Huw, who grew up in a Welsh mining town, that his upbringing was difficult. Huw’s recollections, the tiniest of loving actions, and the resiliency of this family shine brightly under Ford’s direction.. As with all of Ford’s films, How Green Was My Valley is an exercise in one of life’s greatest pursuits: remembering those we love and telling them how much we cherish them “forever.” When discussing Ford’s notion that we can’t tell the past from the future since they both go through the present, this film is an excellent example.
12. Memento (2000), Christopher Nolan
Second feature film Christopher Nolan’s second feature picture is about Leonard’s (Guy Pearce) vengeful quest for retribution. Leonard is haunted by the memory of Jon G. breaking into his house, raping and murdering his wife, after a knock to the head renders him unable to develop new short-term memories. Nolan expertly presents to the audience the terrible conundrum, but Leonard’s continuous reminders of evil soon wrap him in an insoluble mystery, even as he clings to that recollection.