The Boy Who Can’t Forget: Aurelien Heyman, Jill Price and Bob Petrella demonstrate their marvellous memories

The Boy Who Can’t Forget: Aurelien Heyman, Jill Price and Bob Petrella demonstrate their marvellous memories

Can you remember what you did yesterday? How about last month? Or what about on the 17th June 2008?

Well the subject of Barnaby Peel’s documentary The Boy Who Can’t Forget certainly can as we meet 20 year old Durham University student Aurelien Heyman who given a date is able to tell you what day it is, what the weather was like and usually what he was doing on that day. Peel seems completely fascinated with this ability and quizzes Aurelien on different days before getting him to try to remember what happened on every day in July 2009. We also meet Aurelien’s parents who are used to him by now knowing not to challenge him when he corrects them about when a certain even took place though it seemed to be if they were a little annoyed by his ability. Though Peel meets both Aurelien’s family and his friends he still doesn’t full believe in the his abilities thinking that he is employing some sort of advanced memory technique.

Peel then arranges for Aurelien to meet up with British memory champion Dominic O’Brien who was instantly suspicious of somebody who could remember dates instantly as he had to apply a technique to everything that he did. After O’Brien had shown off exactly what a memory champion could do, using the old pack of cards trick, he quizzed Aurelien several times on dates but once again the student was able to bring up an answer for everything. Even though he’d doubted Aurelien upon meeting him it seemed that he’d changed his opinion proclaiming that he was indeed the real deal. Peel though wanted to meet others who had this similar ability and somehow bagged himself a holiday to America in order to do this.

Here he met 48 year old Jill Price a school administrator who never forgets anything and has become a minor celebrity because of this. Peel is also introduced to Dr James McGaugh a doctor who is studying Jill’s abilities claiming that while the scientific community knows a lot about how memories are created they know very little about why people forget things. In working with Jill, McGaugh hopes that he will find what causes her memory skills by asking her similar questions to those that were asked to Aurelien earlier in the film. As Jill has become more famous her memory skills have also been questioned by some namely Dr Gary Marcus who wrote an article for Wired Magazine in which he claimed that Jill was in fact obsessed by the past and wanted to addicted to remembering everything as he compared her need to remember to that of a drug addict trying to find that next fix. Of course Jill rubbishes Marcus’ claims though I have to say that I was a bit suspicious when I saw her densely written diary which she claims to never read. While in America, Peel also met up with 62 year old TV producer Bob Petrella who is able to remember almost every day of his life to the extent that he has decided to catalogue the events into one massive scrapbook. Unlike Jill and Aurelien it seems that Bob isn’t as defensive about his skills but sees them as more of a burden than anything else.

Journeying back to the UK, Peel catches up with Aurelien who this seems quite ashamed that he can remember the start dates for the first eight series of Big Brother, then who wouldn’t be? We then follow him to Hull University where he meets up with Professor Giuliana Mazzoni who is fascinated by his abilities stating that she hasn’t met anybody who can remember what the weather was like on a certain day. Peel’s documentary goes abroad again as Mazzoni and Aurelien travel to her native Venice in order to do some tests on his brain and to explore what makes him function in the way that he does. Peel’s final question is if we could, would we want to remember everything that has ever happened to us? As we’ve seen throughout the film the ability has caused both Jill and Bob a certain amount of stress while the insinuation is made that the same thing will happen to Aurelien. After what I feel was quite a cold, scientific film the final scene of The Boy Who Can’t Forget is fairly sweet as we see Aurelien and his boyfriend enjoying a fairly posh picnic with his boyfriend bemoaning the fact that one day he’ll forget the precious moments they’ll share together while Aurelien will always remember but for that reason he’ll value him more.

On the whole I didn’t really enjoy The Boy Who Can’t Forget as I found it fairly formulaic while two of three subjects were hard to like. Though Aurelien did come across a genuinely nice lad it seems that the majority of the days he could remember were when his family went on exotic holidays to France or canoeing in Zambia. His later reluctance in being asked to recite the dates of the Big Brother debuts for a second time suggests to me that there is a certain amount of practice going on and he feels that if he doesn’t have this ability he won’t be seen as special any more. Similarly Jill come across as someone who constantly needed to remember things as she thought this was the only way in which people would find her interesting. It was only Bob that I felt any genuine connection with as he was a gentle soul who was using his memorising to create something personal to him and I think it was just a shame that out of the three we spent the least amount of time with him.

I also found Peel’s film fairly repetitive as there’s only so many times you can see somebody asked what happened on this specific date before it starts to become a little boring. In addition there were several times in which the camera came into a room at a weird angle making the film appear to be extremely voyeuristic and personally I found this a needlessly artistic technique. While The Boy Who Can’t Forget may have been interesting to an extent to me it was spoilt by its repetitive nature and a lack of connection with the subjects involved and in a couple of weeks’ time I will probably struggle to remember anything about it.


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