This is a forceful, well-made film about Eric Kandel, an Austrian-born Jewish-American psychiatrist, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner who is primarily known for his work on the physiology of memory. In 2006, he wrote a book about his life in relation to his work, titled In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (NY: Norton), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.
Like that book, this film has two purposes: It tells the story of his scientific achievements, but it is also the autobiography of a Holocaust survivor. At one point in the film he asks: To what extent was his research of how memory works motivated by the resolve of Modern-era Jews that they must "never forget"?
A student in Brooklyn, awaiting a lecture by Kandel, refers to him as a "rock star of neuroscience." In the film, he returns to Vienna, to show his family where he lived until, at age nine, the Nazis ransacked the apartment, and he and his brother were sent to New York. The woman who now runs the building where Kandel's father once had a toy shop tells him of all of the tourists who come to have their photograph taken in front of the store, holding up his book. This portion of the film is helped by brief, sepia-toned reenactments of crucial moments in his childhood, events he still clearly remembers.
He also takes his family to the Freud Museum in Vienna, and to the Belvedere Palace, where he revisits the paintings of Viennese artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and others that he first witnessed as a youth. Later, we learn that he and his wife have become art collectors (they live in a house that was once owned by John F. Kennedy), and that they are especially interested in Schiele, Max Beckmann and other Expressionists.
With his family, Kandel also returns to the New York neighborhoods where he grew up, to a Judaic school in Flatbush, and to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, from where, with the help of a teacher, he went on to Harvard University. He remembers his father's reluctance to forfeit a $15 application fee for Brooklyn College (to which Kandel had already applied) for the prospect of going to Harvard instead (so of course his teacher paid the fee). In Kandel's return to his Brooklyn neighborhood (where his father owned a clothing store), there are some baffling moments (perhaps the only odd scenes in the film) in which he knocks on various residents' doors, and then, when the occupants answer, asks, with the camera running, if he and entourage can come in for a moment because it may be where he used to live.
Much of the film takes place at Columbia University at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior in the Department of Psychiatry, where Kandel and his team of young associates (from all over the world) are shown conducting research with isolated brain parts from a particular marine snail, Aplysia californica. He and the others provide an account of their findings, such as the physiology of short-term versus long-term memory. This account, which might easily have become too technical, is made more understandable through Kandel's off-hand comments, interviews with his colleagues, and microscopic close-ups from the actual research.
Understandably, Kandel is still very bothered about the traumatic events that his family and others were made to endure during the Third Reich. He finds it especially hard to forget the euphoria of the Viennese crowds who witnessed the arrival of the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, or the ease with which his family's friends abandoned them as soon as the raids and harassments began.  As a result, when invited to lecture in Austria after receiving the Nobel Prize, he expresses the wish that Vienna become, once again, a great intellectual center for all—both Jews and non-Jews.—RB
Ballast Reviews
Reviews from Ballast Quarterly Review
of books, films and other published materials
All reviews are copyright © by Roy R. Behrens
In Search of Memory. A film by Petra Seeger. 95 mins. DVD, Color, 2008. Available from Icarus Films.
back Home CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009)
From reviews of  CAMOUPEDIA
“[It is] a leading contemporary source book.”
“[It is] an encyclopedic presentation of a vast body of findings in camouflage…[it] opens doors to new frontiers in a number of understudied areas of art and military history.”
“[It is] worthy of unspoken praise.”
“…it is an essential reference for anyone interested in the subject and its broader context.”
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