A Portrait of Jennie Raises Uncomfortable Questions about Memory

By , August 4, 2011

Tuesday night I watched A Portrait of Jennie, a very pleasant old movie that I’ve had on my list to see for a long time. So long, in fact, that finally seeing it raised some disturbing questions about memory.

Somewhere, a long time ago, I read about the movie. The author mentioned a specific scene in the film, and it piqued my interest enough to add it to the list of movies I’d like to see. Eventually, we became members of Netflix, and I added it to our queue as soon as we did so.

However, I knew nothing about the film other than the scene that I’d read about. With only that reason for seeing it, I continually bumped it down on the list until last week.

So here’s the deal: as I recall, the piece I read described Jennifer Jones, the actress who played Jennie in the movie, appearing out of a mist, skating across a pond. This scene made some sort of impression on the author, and whatever he or she wrote about it intrigued me enough to want to see it, even though I no longer remember exactly why.

The film I saw had no such scene. There is a point in the film where the characters skate, and the day is somewhat misty, but more properly described as overcast. Jennie eventually leaves, skating away from the male love interest and the audience; it could be said that she skated into the mist, although it was really more a matter of skating away under a very hazy sky.

So here, then, is my question: have I misremembered the author’s description of the scene, or do I correctly the author’s description, which was based on an incorrect recollection? In other words, is my memory faulty in this case, or was the author’s?

I’ve been troubled by the concept of memory for a long time. It’s become clear that human memory is a largely unreliable thing, which is, of course, troubling. We like to think that we remember everything correctly, although statistically speaking, we rarely do. Unless I stumble upon the piece I read back then, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to check on this.

It makes absolutely no difference whose memory is faulty in the case of this movie—thank goodness!—but it does give me pause.

4 Responses to “A Portrait of Jennie Raises Uncomfortable Questions about Memory”

  1. Russ says:

    Another possiblility is that the author saw a different edit, and the DVD you saw had the scene cut out. How old was the movie and how old was the review?
    I saw a premier Hollywood showing of Pink Floyds “The Wall” when it first came out (my brother had connections), and a few months later saw it in a local theater in Flagstaff, and I know for sure that it was a very different edit.

  2. Russ says:

    Not that I should be comparing 1948 classics to 1984 Rock Operas… :{

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    Russ, that’s a real possibility, but I’ll never know. What I read wasn’t even a review, the movie was mentioned in a piece on a completely different subject . . . at least, as I remember it! I’ve done a little reading on IMDB about the movie, and one person mentioned that the DVD they saw had a bad transfer, with broken film, etc., so there could well be other versions out there.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Didn’t you do a thesis on this in college? 🙂

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