Introducing the Mnemosyne index

I have for the longest time employed two simple criteria to screen out movies for viewing. First, I want to know whether a film is aimed at an intelligent adult audience. I can’t believe how many films are aimed at teenage boys and teenage girls.

Second, I want to know if the resolution of a film’s plot employs some gratuitous attack on the United States or a politically correct variant of such a theme. There is a long line of movies going back to the Watergate era in American politics in which the twists and turns of the plot finally reveal a farfetched conspiracy at the highest reaches of the government. Three Days of the Condor can serve as a prototype of the form, with a hilarious bonus: the New York Times is the hero of the story. Now that’s a twofer. I can’t believe how many films draw on a variant of the formula.

Films suffused with a politically correct subtext fall afoul of a generalized version of this criterion. The Imitation Game is a good current example of a film that in my view fails on this score. See, for example, Christian Caryl’s interesting New York Review of Books post “A poor imitation of Alan Turing.”

In recent years I have developed a third criterion: the Mnemosyne Index. Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory. If I remember the ancient Greek correctly, I believe “mnemosyne” derives from the Greek word for “memory” (mnēmē). Here I ask whether I will remember the film in a week: will I remember the title, the story, or having seen the thing at all? On a scale of 1 to 10, how memorable is it?

I cannot believe how many movies I have completely forgotten within a week of seeing them. Of all movies I see, I think the average rating I would award on this scale is about a 3. Here I have to concede that this may be symptomatic of a condition beyond the pitifully formulaic nature of most films served up for public consumption.

I have seen six of the eight nominees that are up for the Oscar as Best Picture tonight. My Mnemosyne Index rating does not necessarily correlate with the quality of the film, but I think it’s not a bad marker. Here is my Mnemosyne Index rating of each of the six, in alphabetical order, submitted for your consideration just for fun:

American Sniper: 9.

Birdman: 10.

Boyhood: 8.

The Imitation Game: 3.

The Theory of Everything: 3.

Whiplash: Just saw it last night, so in the spirit of the enterprise I should reserve judgment. This is my best guess the morning after: 9.

Discuss among yourselves!


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