Film vs. Reality: Souvenirs, Memory, and Trauma Explored
Writer, filmmaker, artist and self-described nomad, Brooke Stoker ’16, Film and Screen Studies, used her extensive knowledge of film and film theory to write a research paper examining trauma and memory in two popular films, Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
On the basis of her consistent academic and extracurricular excellence, and commitment to research, Stoker was inaugurated into the 2016 Society of Fellows and participated as panelist on the Trauma, Gender and Sexuality in Film Studies panel at the 2016 Society of Fellows Annual Meeting. She worked closely with Professor Ruth Johnston who served as her faculty mentor, editing and revising the research paper in preparation for the Annual Meeting. “Dr. Johnson is very thorough and thoughtful in her editing. She is a wonderful mentor in writing and film critique,” Stoker said.
Memory and loss
Stoker’s paper, Souvenirs: The Power of Representation in Relation to Memory is a rigorous comparative analysis of two films where souvenirs, trauma and memory loss are central to the films’ narratives. She compared and contrasted the protagonist of the film Memento, who relies solely on souvenirs to inform him of his identity and purpose, with the protagonist of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who uses souvenirs to suppress and destroy the memories from his difficult past.
“There is power and memory within souvenirs, but they can never recreate the moment,” Stoker asserts. In reality, one’s souvenirs serve only as an emotional trigger capable of reminding one of past events but are not exact replicas of a moment, nor tools for recreating an experience. As her research illustrates, only through movie magic—the special effects, audio effects, editing, etc.—can a moment ever truly be relived.
A scholarly analysis
Her research and extensive analysis was inspired by a quote from film historian and scholar, Thomas Elsaesser, “trauma theory is not so much a theory of recovered memory as it is one of recovered referentiality.” Elsaesser posits that actively forgetting a trauma can cause just as much harm as remembering it.
Her scholarly and creative work is highly representative of a generation struggling to find a balance between enjoying life’s fleeting moments, and the impulse to capture and share them with others, often through social media. Stoker grappled with this concept of documentation and presence in her senior honors thesis, Where Mud Abounds, a multimedia piece detailing her experience hiking the Long Trail through Vermont. “I delved into personal questions and ultimately concluded that capturing moments often inhibits us from living them,” she said.
Stoker graduated in May in the top four of her class with a major in Film and Screen Studies, and three minors in Peace and Justice Studies, Photography, and Business. She was the recipient of the Dyson Award for Film and Screen Studies, and the first-place recipient of the Richard Gill Writing Award for film criticism. “My professors and classes at Pace have been crucial to my development as a writer,” Stoker said, “Words, images, and physical objects hold ties to the past that can spark so many thoughts and feelings and that’s what I’m most interested in exploring, not only in my research, but in my personal life as well. I want to ink my notebooks and click my camera shutter now so that someone later on can catch a glimpse of my past.”