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Krulwich Wonders: A Metaphor For Forgetting (That You Might Remember)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 09:12 AM

Scene from The Drawer of Memory (YouTube)

I can't imagine what it's like, though I watched my father endure it for nine long years. He was taken by Alzheimer's, the disease that creeps in and slowly erases what you know until, eventually, there's no more to erase. How this happens is still a mystery, but this short animation by Po Chou Chi tries, I think, to make poetic sense of what goes on.

It's the story of an old woman who lives alone in a tower, a rickety tower that feels like her rickety body, trying to stay up in the storm. Though she's alone, she can pick up an old hat, and her mind — represented by a set of drawers that protrude from her body — will scan the object, unlock a series of memories that tell her, that's the hat your husband wore back in 1982, that's why it's familiar.


The drawers (and a lively computer) are, I guess, Po's metaphor for how we remember. Neurologically, that's not quite right. We don't store memories in locked cabinets, but Po Chou Chi isn't a scientist; he's an animator, an artist, and he borrowed the drawer's idea from a painting by Salvador Dali.

It doesn't go well for the old lady. As the story progresses, so does her dementia. The drawers stop working. Her mind has more and more trouble recollecting. The images grow pale, blank; she seems on the verge of fading completely, but the ending, if that's what it is, is a gentle one, eased in good part by her loving husband, who may be gone, but isn't, quite.

I found this very beautiful.


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Comments [7]


Janie, I'm 69, and I sure as hell aren't gonna think of myself as an "old woman" at 72, no matter what happens to me. If I get dementia (both mother & grandmother did) I won't subject myself or my relatives to it. Spending the last 10 years of my life looked after by semi-literate obese immigrants being paid minimum wage isn't my idea of a good finish.

Aug. 01 2015 02:26 PM
Kathryn Bay from San Luis Obispo, CA

A visual poem. Thank you.

Jul. 16 2015 10:28 AM
Max S from London

There's another excellent animation on the same topic by the students of called "El Ladrón de Caras" (The Face Thief). You can watch it here

Jul. 05 2015 08:23 AM
John M Clark from Surprise, AZ

A friend of mine had an older but successful band with a beloved bass player. It got to the point that he couldn't remember that they had a job or not, where it was and what they would be required to wear. She had to call him on the afternoon of each job to remind him and pick him up at home(w/string bass!) and take him to each job. But once there he could remember every song they played, no music required, flawlessly! Cognitive vs. musical memory?!?!

Jul. 04 2015 07:19 PM
chuck from Houston

The more we use a memory the less reliable it becomes? Yeah.. I'm not buying it.

Jul. 04 2015 03:26 PM
Aldona Skonie

Yikes,I too found it scary,not the most dignified way to go out.

Jul. 03 2015 07:39 AM
Janie Martin from Monmouth, Oregon

Wow....pretty scary for a 72 year old woman like me watching this. Strange you thought it beautiful.
Sorry, it is difficult for an old woman like me to understand the meaning of "be brief!" (smiling here)

I kind of thought Alzheimer's is kind of the Soul's Grace for one of it's personality character's focused in physical reality who happen's to be so ego attached, it believes the body to it, and is afraid to die, so the Soul makes this detachment from the physical reality happen in such a slow way that it is eventually not noticed. And also a kind of Grace for the family member who might find it more difficult to let someone go from their life. Researcher Elmer Green whose wife had it came back in just enough moments to explain it is like having a foot in two world's. So transition can be differently from one world to the next.
My own husbad who had a bi-polar disorder as well as Dementia, was so terribly afraid to die. Eventually he did not know who I was. I laugh with tongue in cheek when I say, "Well that was one way for Ralph to escape from me!"
Janie Martin

Jan. 03 2013 05:25 PM

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