Stereotypically in movies, women have been portrayed as demure, dependent creatures who need a man or a significant other to feel fulfilled; however, in the 1980’s, this idea of a needy woman began to transform. During this decade, “feminism in American society arose from women’s attempts to create a more equal society”, and the change could be seen not only politically, but in films as well (Nilsson). In both Overboard and Desperately Seeking Susan, amnesia is used as a catalyst for the transformation of personalities and morals of each of the lead females, giving them a more independent and self-sufficient outlook on life.
In Garry Marshall’s Overboard (1987) wealthy, rude heiress Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) hires carpenter Dean Profitt (Kurt Russel) to remodel her closet. After using the wrong kind of wood, Joanna refuses to pay him. Dean then tries to demand his payment and ends up being pushed overboard, along with his tools, by Joanna. Later that night, Joanna’s bad karma from earlier that day leads her to falling overboard into the sea after trying to get her wedding ring that has been left out on the deck. She is rescued by garbage collectors and is taken to a local hospital where she is deemed to have amnesia. Dean, thinking it as the ultimate revenge, picks her up saying that she is his wife after seeing her face on a news channel.
As Joanna lives her new life as wife and mother “Annie Profitt”, she transforms into a more humane, nurturing woman who gains an added sympathetic and worldly eye due to walking in the shoes of the less wealthy. Towards the ending of Overboard, Joanna’s memory returns randomly after seeing her old husband. She then thanks Dean for “making her a mother and a wife” and her previous rude nature from the beginning of the story ceases to resurface.
Even though “the story of how she finds true happiness [in being] an amnesiac and traditional wife and mother of four offers a lesson in the benefits of female domestication”, the domestication aids in Joanna’s ability to become more self-sufficient and independent (Bell-Metereau). This anti-feministic theme ironically liberates Joanna by allowing her to work in other ways, this case as a mother and wife, thus replacing her materialistic values.
In Susan Siedelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), unhappy house wife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) follows nomadic, free-spirited Susan (Madonna) around New York when she sees that she is in town via conversations with a ‘Jim’ in the newspaper. Roberta buys Susan’s jacket after it is pawned off and discovers a key. After setting up a time and a place to give the key back to Susan, Roberta is harassed by a mobster looking for a missing Egyptian…