Despite its broad title, the documentary In Search of Memory is quite narrowly focused. In fact, the film’s subject, Nobel laureate Eric R. Kandel, serves as both narrator and star and appears in nearly every shot. With a lead character as dynamic and charming as Kandel, however, it is easy to see why director Petra Seeger chose to build the film on his personal experiences and reflections, rather than engaging in the usual documentary-style interviews with colleagues, friends and family. Based on Kandel’s 2006 autobiography of the same title, the movie chronicles his groundbreaking memory research as well as his early childhood in Nazi-occupied Austria (Kandel’s family fled to the U.S. in 1939).
Seeger interweaves Kandel’s musings on the science of memory with personal accounts and reenactments of his childhood. She takes the viewer into Kandel’s laboratory at Columbia University for light science lessons and then to Austria where Kandel and his family revisit the locations of his childhood traumas for the first time. Even in these poignant scenes, Kandel’s effervescence shows through. With his trademark red bow tie and his wide smile, Kandel never ceases to be a pleasure to watch. He is one of science’s greatest treasures, and Seeger does a masterful job at encapsulating both his brilliance and his captivating spirit.