Prosopagnosia is defined as “An inability or difficulty in recognizing familiar faces; it may be congenital or result from injury or disease of the brain.” (The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary) More specifically, damage to the underside of both occipital lobes. It is important to remember that whilst the ability to recognise faces is impaired, sufferers can still recognise objects and voices. The specific brain area associated with the disorder is the fusiform gyrus which activates specifically in response to faces – hence people recognising faces more effectively than similar inanimate objects. If that area is damaged then the ability to recognised faces falls in the less sensitive object recognition system.
With face blindness it is important to look at films that portray the subject (carefully or not) as well as look at accounts from real life stories for a more accurate representation. Compared to schizophrenia, the amount of media based on prosopagnosia is very low. There is only one feature length film: Faces in the Crowd (Magnat, 2011) and two short films: Prosopagnosia (Kiejzer, 2011) and In Vivid Detail (Bratt, 2007), probably due to the rarity of the condition.
Case Study: Faces in the Crowd
The film focuses on a woman who develops prosopagnosia after surviving an attack from a serial killer, who then closes in on her after finding about her condition. At first the whole story concept of the film seems to be over the top and somewhat blown out of proportion, maybe a tad unrealistic and silly. Jovovich however did a very convincing job for a person suffering with the disorder and her portrayal of prosopagnosia is quite realistic – the special effects with the changing faces is very well done and her reactions are powerful. We can see how her life was perfect beforehand, and after she receives brain damage her life just flips over – the difference is quite significant. There was one important flaw though; she could have recognised people’s voices, which are just as significant as faces.
Looking at forums too was important as I wanted to see how people told their story from their own perspective. I found the following account on a support site and it was rather intriguing:
“The man stood in my department. He didn’t come up to me; he didn’t interrupt me, or ask for help. I’d been a bit swamped that day, and only just now was able to look at him. He just stood there, patiently waiting for…what? What was he waiting for? I was supposed to leave in a few minutes, why was he just standing there? After a few moments, the penny dropped. It was my husband, and he’d come to pick me up from work.”
This story was the basis for my original idea because it sounded very dramatic and with some stylised shots it could become very interesting a short film, unfortunately it one fundamental flaw: why couldn’t the husband just shout her name or text/phone her? Surely the wife would recognise his clothing or his voice.
Faces in the Crowd, 2011. [DVD] Julien Magnat, United States: Voltage Pictures.
Prosopagnosia (Face Blind). 2012. Prosopagnosia (Face Blind). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.squidoo.com/faceblind. [Accessed 29 November 2012].
prosopagnosia – definition of prosopagnosia in the Medical dictionary – by the Free Online Medical Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.. 2012. prosopagnosia – definition of prosopagnosia in the Medical dictionary – by the Free Online Medical Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.. [ONLINE] Available at: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/prosopagnosia. [Accessed 29 November 2012].