"No More Origins": Memory, Trauma, and X-Men: First Class

Curator's Note

In “Memories Out of Order: Thought Suppression and the Disturbance of Sequence Memory”, psychologists Daniel Wegner, Frances Quillian, and Christopher Houston found that subjects told to suppress memories of a film later had more difficulty recalling it than those who were not told to do so. These subjects were ‘less able to retrieve the order of events ... even though their retrieval of the events themselves as assessed by recognition, free recall, and cued recall was not generally impaired.’ (Wegner et. al. 680) The psychologists also noted that the survivor-victims of a traumatic experience often fragment their memories of the entirety of these experiences up into separate ‘frames, each of which may become memorable by itself — but may also become associated with distracters used to suppress it and dissociated from the other frames that originally preceded and followed it.’ (Wegner et. al. 680) The traumatic episode, thus, ‘can no longer be replayed in one's mind when the continuity of the story is lost in this way, and so it is effectively forgotten.’ (Wegner et. al. 680)

While experiencing a bad movie is less problematic than the experiences that the survivors of clinical trauma have faced, wilfully forgetting is a change of mind which, as the experiment suggests, people are only too happy to make. X-Men: First Class was billed as a prequel to the existing X-Men films. It included Hugh Jackman in a Wolverine cameo, explaining why the character is not in the X-Men this time round. Yet, First Class’s mature Emma Frost and youthfully-paralyzed Professor X make it inconsistent with the less popular X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It is only consistent with the better-received X-Men and X2

  First Class’s status as reboot of/ prequel to the X-Men films, accordingly, is readable as a doubled-pronged strategy. It encourages audiences to recall the good parts of the franchise, yet simultaneously forget or discount the bad ones. A Wolverine atomized down to a memborable three-word cameo is a Wolverine with his problematic Last Stand and Origins deemphasized, yet consistent with his historically appealing characterisation in the overall X-Men franchise. Thus, not only can popular anticipation for upcoming X-Men-branded films like The Wolverine be created, but the existing X-Men films can, in this manipulation of audience affect, be remembered according to the excellent quality that characterised the first two films, fostering retroactive consumption of these texts.


 An intriguing post, Wilson, which ties in well with William's post yesterday. It has been ages since I last saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and I had totally forgotten about Professor X being mobile at the film's ending, which fits into your argument quite nicely. When viewed in relation to the original trilogy, both of these films seem to create their own inconsistencies when viewed in relation to the original trilogy yet find other ways to relate back to it. I always found it strange how Sabertooth didn't seem to recognize Wolverine in the first film if they later established him to be his brother, and how Mystique and Professor X were basically siblings yet did not allude to any previous relationship in the first three films. With both new Wolverine and First Class films on the board, it will be interesting to see if they try to find a way to unify these two films into a more consistent story or if they will continue along the lines you described above. This franchise is especially interesting to compare to Batman and Spider-Man, which establish clean breaks within their film continuities rather than continue to produce contradictory projects simultaneously.

My question is if you think that the X-Men film franchise will be able to sustain itself by relying on this form of audience "traumatic" memory loss or if continuing along this path might lead to confusion and/or sabotage their previous successes. Since there was a two year gap between Origins and First Class and only a year gap is planned between their sequels, it is possible that the reaction against inconsistencies may be stronger this time around. 

Another issue this week's posts have been circling around is the fact that many of the reboots/relaunches/adaptations are based on comic book properties (even Mirror, Mirror, - and, more obviously, Once Upon a Time - is drawing on the success of Bill Willingham's Fables). Comic book narratives are notorious for jumping through all sorts of hoops to maintain continuity. Or, in particular cases, these narratives simply "ret-con"previous storylines in order to accomodate new narratives. In the case of the X-Men movies, perhaps they are simply drawing on the plethora of concurrent X-Men comic storylines, allowing them to exist uncomortably in the same cinematic universe. This certainly blurs the distinction between reboot, relaunch, reimagining, and adaptation, and it suggests that these concepts should be thought of as existing on a spectrum rather than in terms of a linear distinction.

 That's a very good point, Drew. I had forgotten about Fables and your point about the X-Men films is spot-on, and your idea of the spectrum vs. linearity ties in really well with points William made earlier this week. I think this line of inquiry is definitely worth exploring further. I've really liked seeing how all of the concepts that have been brought up this week continue to meld together. There is a lot of potential for further research in reboots, and I strongly encourage continued collaboration as scholars strive to outline all of the concept's complexities.

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