Henry meets Lucy during breakfast one morning, and instantly falls in love. When he sees her the next day, she has no memory of the two of them ever having met. Henry learns that Lucy loses everything she learns during the day when she falls asleep at night – the apparent result of a car accident years ago. Lucy, her father, and her brother constantly relive the day before her accident, to avoid the daily pain as she discovers her condition. Henry won’t give up, and meets Lucy each morning for breakfast in an attempt to make a lasting impression.
I don't know who you are, but I dream about you
Tim Daly and Mary Spiers
Lucy’s memory problems began following a car accident, which took place one year before the movie begins. On the way home from their annual pineapple pick, Lucy and her father veer off the road to avoid a cow and Lucy suffers a head injury [00:22:48]. Lucy’s specific condition is described as Goldfield’s Syndrome, a fictional disorder created for this movie.
One particularly interesting development comes when Henry visits Lucy at the brain injury center where she teaches an art class. Henry finds that Lucy has been painting pictures of him. In the movie Lucy says " I don't know who you are Henry, but I dream about you almost every night." (1:26:00). This would suggest that small bits of information are being transferred into Lucy's long-term memory, but not so much as to make her fully consciously aware of who he is when he appears each day; these bits of memory only come out in her painting, and her singing[1:24:00]. In the movie, this allows Lucy to form an emotional connection to Henry, which is needed to make a love story believable. In the neuropsychological literature the famous case of H.M. (a man with severe anterograde amnesia) slowly built a subconscious (or implicit) recognition of his doctor over time but was not able to consciously recognize say he knew him. If Lucy loses her memory every night, would she actually be able to remember Henry in her dreams?
Despite the importance of Lucy's memory problem and its influence on the story, very little detail is provided regarding a description of her symptoms or a diagnosis. The viewer is only told that Lucy was hurt, she loses any new memories when she falls asleep, and, in passing, the name of her fictional disorder is given. For this reason, 50 First Dates is not accurate from a neuropsychological perspective, but it is a good starting point to talk about how sleep works to consolidate memory. It’s a light comedy and does provide good entertainment even though the ending is sugar coated. In the end Lucy accepts her life and the new people in it, even though she has no memory of them and no memory of their shared relationships over time.