"No More Origins": Memory, Trauma, and X-Men: First Class
by Wilson Koh — National University of Singapore
August 09, 2012 – 00:00
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.