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Willful Amnesia
Deliberately refusing to remember something painful or shameful.


(permanent link) added: 2012-03-20 21:41:36 sponsor: DaveMichael (last reply: 2012-03-25 20:40:49)

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Sometimes a character will actively refuse to remember parts of his past. This may be because the memories are so traumatic that they shatter the character's sense of self. Other times, the character has crossed the Moral Event Horizon, but deliberately forgets happier times to avoid feelings of guilt or remorse.

This is not to be confused with a Memory Gambit, since the character has no intention of ever remembering what he's forgotten. Being forced to break Willful Amnesia may cure Amnesiac Dissonance, but not always. Sometimes pushing a character to acknowledge Willful Amnesia is the Berserk Button. It might also result in a Heroic BSOD or a Villainous BSOD.

Because Willful Amnesia tends to hide some pretty big plot twists, be warned: Here There Be Spoilers.

Do We Have This One??

Examples:

  • Scott Pilgrim's memories of his previous relationships, and his habit of beating up Nega-Scott rather than acknowledging his own Jerk Ass tendencies, provides the trope image.
  • Davros shows signs of this in the Doctor Who audio drama that shares his name. It's revealed that he regularly alters his own brain chemistry to block out every regret of his life.
  • Another Doctor Who example comes from early in the Eleventh Doctor's run. The inhabitants of the Starship UK have enslaved and torture a space whale to carry them to a new planet. Every few years, the inhabitants are given the choice to protest the whale's treatment (and possibly kill everyone on the ship), or forget that it's happening and go back to their daily lives. Everyone chooses to forget.
  • The Return of Barry Allen played this trope for all it was worth. Barry Allen, the second Flash, returned from the dead as a major Jerk Ass. Eventually it was revealed that "Barry" was actually Professor Zoom, who had traveled back in time from a point before he'd become a super-villain, wearing Barry's face. When Zoom learned that his hero had already killed him, his mind snapped and he convinced himself that he actually was Barry Allen.
  • Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H goes through this for awhile in the series finale. It's obvious he's mentally disturbed, but he furiously resists any suggestion that he's unwell. Eventually therapy forces him to reveal exactly what traumatized him, and he recovers.
    • "She killed the chicken!"
  • Family Guy invokes this trope with the entire country of Germany. Brian asks a German tour guide why his historical pamphlet doesn't mention anything between 1933 and 1945. The tour guide insists everyone was on vacation.
  • A lighter example: In an episode of Adventure Time, Finn, unable to cope with a particularly horrifying memory, decides to put it in what he calls "The Vault". After straining for a second, he cheerfully declares "And it's gone!"
  • The ending to Sphere by Michael Crichton, when Norman, Harry and Jane, the only survivors, use the power of the Sphere to choose to forget the events of plot, in order to resolve the paradox and also prevent anyone else from discovering the Sphere.
  • This drives the plot for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Joel and Clementine opt to forget their entire relationship. Subverted when Joel changes his mind midway through the procedure.
  • The River Lethe may be the Ur Example for this trope. In Greek mythology, the shades of the dead were required to drink from the waters of the Lethe and forget their earthly existence. According to Virgil this was a prerequisite for reincarnation.
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