Movie Review: Exploring Identity, Memory, and Belief in “The Lost Mariner”

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Introduction: The Power of Narrative in Society and Science

Everyone has a story. This idea of narrative as a defining trait of oneself contributes to society as a whole and sets boundaries for the way humans act and think. Counter to popular opinion, narrative can be used in a variety of situations, including empirically dominated subjects like science. Oliver Sacks advanced this technique of narrative in the science world and illustrated his work throughout the text “The Lost Mariner.” This essay highlights the importance of memory as a way of connecting to societal facts; however, a person’s identity and existence can be held down by the practice of religious beliefs.

Memory and Identity: The Case of Jimmie G in “The Lost Mariner”

Jimmie G in “The Lost Mariner” is diagnosed with Korsakov’s Disease, which is caused by alcoholism and deteriorates the part of your brain associated with making memories. Through Sack’s use of narrative medicine, he documents the interactions he’s had with Jimmie in order to further his knowledge of the relationships between memory and a person’s place in society. He pegs the question of Jimmie’s existence and self-identity if he has no memory of the near past, no memory of the present, and no plans for the future. Since everyone in society has a narrative, is someone who cannot create memories not a part of society or even exist?

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Narrative Breach and Identity: Examining Jimmie’s Isolation

In Bruner’s essay “The Narrative Construction of Reality,” he states 10 points that are essential in the creation of a narrative. Canonicity and breach focus on the need for something to break the “normal” state or something to defy social norms. In Jimmie’s case, his breach was his lack of memory. The inability to remember anything outside of his teen years in World War II leads him to become a recluse to society. Sacks highlights Jimmie’s inability through the years to form any relationships in the hospital, which he uses to support his claim that Jimmie has, in some sense, lost his identity. Not only is the “self” and a person’s identity defined by memories, but also their interactions with others and the external world.

Rediscovering Identity Through the Sacred: Jimmie’s Connection with Religion

Sacks stays firm in his beliefs until he observes Jimmie in the Chapel. According to Émile Durkheim, life is somewhat split into the profane and the sacred. The profane is simply everyday tasks that a person is involved in. The sacred, on the other hand, the sacred relates to when a person goes beyond the “every day” or participates in religious practices. In theory, a person who is isolated from society or alone can participate in this collectivity through these sacred acts. Religion is directly connected to society and brings emotional security to a communal group. This theory is supported by Jimmie’s actions when he is examined at church. Attending Mass helps Jimmie connect with the society that abandoned him after his loss of memory; it somewhat keeps him grounded in the world.


  1. Sacks, O. (1985). The Lost Mariner. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (pp. 59-73). Touchstone.
  2. Bruner, J. S. (1991). The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry, 18(1), 1-21.
  3. Durkheim, É. (1915). The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Free Press.

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Movie Review: Exploring Identity, Memory, and Belief in "The Lost Mariner". (2023, Aug 30). Retrieved from

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