Losing Face

(Eric Shansby)
By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, March 16, 2008

This is what it is like to be at the movies with me.

Me: Is that the same guy who was in the last scene, with the girl?

Wife: Yes. Shh.

Me: But he had a beard in the last scene.

Wife: No, he didn't. Shhh.

Me: Are you sure?

Wife: Shhhhh.

Me: (Sulk.)

Wife: Listen, you idiot. It's Tom Cruise. The same Tom Cruise who was in the previous scene. It's the same one who will be in the next scene. It's the same one who had Renee Zellweger at hello in the last movie when you forgot who Tom Cruise was, and, yes, by the way, that was Renee Zellweger, not Kirsten Dunst, who looks nothing like Renee Zellweger and would not be confused for Renee Zellweger by anyone but you, okay?

Stranger in next seat: Shhh.

I have trouble recognizing and remembering faces. It is a mild form of a disorder called prosopagnosia, which in its most extreme form can cause you to look in a mirror and not recognize the person looking back at you.

My face-recognition dysfunction is pretty minor, but it is severely tested when watching a movie, a circumstance where you are suddenly presented with many unfamiliar people interacting in complicated ways, and you must learn to quickly tell them apart. I'm okay if a character has some dramatic distinguishing characteristic, or speaks in a distinctive way -- I was just fine with the Wicked Witch of the West -- but if the characters seem to be random assemblages of run-of-the-mill noses and eyes, lips and ears, I am in trouble.

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