• Peter Segal’s 50 First Dates details the story of Lucy
Whitmore, a young woman suffering from permanent
amnesia caused by brain damage and Henry Roth, a once
notorious womanizer, and how the relationship between the
two develops over the course of time.
• Despite challenges that
threaten to get in the
way, Henry and Lucy create a
rare and untraditional
relationship making it truly
one of a kind and one worth
working at every single day.
Lucy’s brain damage was caused in a car accident rendering it impossible for her to
remember anything after the day of the accident. Her memories leading up to the
accident remained intact, so her family, to prevent her the trauma of having to rerealize her condition each day, wakes up each morning to recreate the day prior to
Lucy’s accident, ultimately living it over and over again.
This process had gone on for a year, the same way each day, until Henry Roth
entered the picture. Part of Lucy’s daily tradition was to go out to breakfast and
that is where Henry first laid eyes on her and was so drawn to her he couldn’t stay
away, even once he finally realized she was an amnesiac.
• Previously spending most of her time
with her father, brother and close
members of the community, Lucy’s
life took an interesting
change, eventually for the best, once
she met Henry. The man she would
fall more and more in love with in a
new way each day, literally, found a
way to bridge the communication
challenge created by the amnesia.
Henry, a veterinarian, had no value for romantic relationships prior to meeting
Lucy. Until the fateful day at the breakfast diner where he found the woman he
would spend each day proving his love to, Henry lived the typical life of a bachelor.
• Upon meeting Lucy, Henry really didn’t
know what he was in for. After finally
working up the courage to approach
her, Henry could not help but want to
know more about the woman he was so
intrigued by. Not long after meeting
Lucy, Henry found himself wondering
why, despite previously friendly
conversations, she would act in days that
followed as if she didn’t know him at all.
• Realizing his interest in Lucy, one of the diner workers- a close friend of Lucy’s
deceased mother, let Henry in on the story. Now understanding Lucy’s apprehension
and behavior toward him, Henry was shocked. Despite Lucy’s condition and knowing
she would wake up each morning with no memory of him or the day before, Henry
decided to continue to pursue Lucy and make her fall in love with him even if that
meant doing it all over again with each new day. And that he did.
SPOILER ALERT: Since this is a critical analysis of the film rather than a beginning to
end synopsis of its events, Lucy and Henry’s relationship will be summed up here
in case anyone hasn’t seen this movie!
In the end, Lucy and Henry become married, have a child and take off on a boat to
sea where Henry would study aquatic life. Understanding Lucy’s condition and the
nature of their relationship at the start, this story is an interesting one in terms of
analyzing communication. Common forms of verbal and nonverbal communication
practices help maintain the very uncommon relationship.
• Lucy and Henry deal with
throughout the course of the
remembering, trust, control, eff
ective messages, appropriate
messages, social exchange
rewards, interpersonal needs
The concept of remembering and memory is an interesting one in terms of the
relationship between Lucy and Henry. Defined as “the process of moving
information from short-term memory to long-term memory (209), Lucy’s brain
damage makes this process impossible. While her long-term memories made prior
to the accident remain intact, she no longer has the ability to turn make her shortterm memories longer lasting or permanent.
The difficulty that Lucy’s inability to remember is seen many times throughout the
movie, but the ‘Stranger in the Bed’ scene is one which does a great job showing
it. After a great date night out, Henry and Lucy end up in bed together, falling
asleep. As the two drift off, Henry says to Lucy, “don’t forget about me, okay?”
knowing that come morning, she would not share the memories he would. As was
always the case, when he two woke up Lucy was in a panic to be in bed with a
‘stranger’ and began screaming and throwing things at Henry. “Don’t you
remember me just a little?” he begged, but she didn’t, and despite his hopes that
one day he would defy her condition, he understood.
• Lucy’s inability to remember, a fundamental feature in being able to communicate with
others, proved challenging for Henry, but nothing could keep him away from her. To aid
where her memory lacked, Henry decided to film a recap of each day he had with Lucy
including current events to the things they would do together to show to her each
morning. When Lucy was able to visualize the life she was happily living, even if she had
to learn that again each day, the couple was able to spend less time as ‘strangers’ and
more time creating new experiences together. While long-term memory processing
could not take place, the video helped Lucy realize her reality on a short-term basis.
• Defined as “the extent to which partners in relationships rely on, depend on, and
have faith that their partner will not intentionally do anything to harm them”
(16), the concept of trust plays a huge role in the success of the relationship
between Lucy and Henry.
• Since Lucy woke up each
morning thinking Henry was a
stranger, her ability to trust in
his character is incremental in
making the relationship a
lasting one. The fact that Lucy
watched the home videos
every morning and continued
to decide to go find Henry for
breakfast proved that she did
trust in him and their
Control is defined as “the extent to which each person has power or is ‘in charge’
in the relationship” (16). In the case of Lucy and Henry, who has control and in
what situations is always disputable. As is the case in all relationships, the levels of
control are defined over time and over many exchanges.
• To some degree, it seems that
Henry is ‘in charge’ in the
relationship as without his
persistence, due to Lucy’s inability
to remember, the couple would fail
to work out. Even when Lucy
insisted in an emotional scene that
Henry’s life would be hindered by
staying with her, he refused to let
their relationship end, ultimately
exercising his ability to control the
• In another sense, it could be interpreted that Lucy has more control in the
relationship without even knowing it. Due to her condition, Henry had to cater to
constantly creating and maintaining a relationship in spite of it. Of course, being truly
in love with Lucy, Henry did it all with love.
Effective messages achieve goals envision by the partners in an exchange or a relationship (21).
Immediately after learning of Lucy’s amnesia, Henry had to create effective messages to
persuade her every day to want to spend time with him.
In a scene making a bet with Nick, the chef and Lucy’s friend at the breakfast
restaurant, Henry insisted he could get Lucy to want to have breakfast with him again. In the
next few scenes, Henry is shown making several comically unsuccessful attempts at gaining
The first few rejections Henry
faced were because he and Lucy
had different visions of the
outcomes of their exchanges.
Henry approached Lucy hoping to
spark a conversation and
relationship by being funny or
charming and Lucy was initially
not interested and therefore not
quick to communicate with him.
In this respect, Henry’s messages
were not effective in nature in
These types of messages “conform to the social, relational and ethical expectations
of the situation” (21). These types of components of communication and messages
shared within relationships are defined, in part, by how others see them (21).
Henry had to adapt his communication skills in ways he never had prior to meeting
Lucy- in fact, most people in her life had to recreate the way it was ‘appropriate’ to
communicate with her after the accident.
Once Henry got to know Lucy, he understood that there were several people
supporting her and working hard to ensure that each day went accordingly so Lucy
would be happy and blissfully unaware of her situation. That in mind, Lucy’s
dad, brother, as well as Nick and Sue from the restaurant, were very protective of
her and therefore apprehensive of allowing Henry to spend time with her fearing
that he would not be sensitive in the way he spoke to her and therefore careful of
the verbal messages he was sending.
It was Henry’s patience with Lucy, his persistence and way of keeping her happy
that won over her supportive family and friends. Using appropriate
messages, meaning avoiding ever telling Lucy of her brain damage, meant that
Henry, too, played a role day to day to recreate the day before Lucy’s accident and
make himself a part of it starting from breakfast and eventually, ending falling
asleep together only to wake up and do it all again.
Social Exchange Theory
• The theory suggests that “we continue to develop a relationship as long as
feel that its rewards outweigh its cost” (177). The case of Lucy and Henry
is an interesting one in terms of social exchange; many people in Henry’s
situation may have looked at Lucy’s amnesia as a cost outweighing the
benefits of the relationship, but instead, Henry let it motivate him to love
her even more in the ways she needed.
• In the scene where Sue told Henry of Lucy’s
amnesia and the way she lives the same day over
and over again, many men might have lost interest
and run away. Listening to what Sue said and
internalizing what it
meant, Henry, instead, decided to work harder to
pursue Lucy. To him, her attention and spending
time with her outweighed the costs it may take to
do so. The unconventional relationship between
Lucy and Henry, according to Social Exchange
Theory, worked because both partners, in their
own ways, decided each day that the rewards were
much greater than any costs.
These costs are defined as “negative outcomes to a relationship, including the time and
energy we spend developing a relationship and the negative experiences that may arise
like hurt feelings, conflict episodes, jealousy, etc.” (177).
Lucy and Henry’s relationship definitely faced it’s share of costs, but fortunately, the
couple did not succumb to them. Because Lucy couldn’t remember Henry and all of the
things the two had been through in all of their time together, there were at
times, conflicts mostly involving keeping Lucy on the same page as Henry.
One major cost that plagued the relationship for a time was Lucy’s insistence that Henry
would be better off without her resulting in hurt feelings and two different visions of
where the relationship was at and where it was going. Lucy had kept a journal to read
each morning recounting her times with Henry and her feelings for him and one
night, met with him for what she thought would be a final time to burn it and allow him
to move on and find a more fulfilling relationship. As he always had, Henry let Lucy
express herself as she needed to, but did not lost faith that she would eventually come
around and after a break up and a stint in an assisted living facility, she did. Henry never
gave up on his love for Lucy because as he would always say, he couldn’t picture his life
without her, and the costs were never unconquerable or outweighing the rewards in his
After withstanding initial differences and several trying times, Lucy and Henry
found that falling in love all over again each day was as rewarding as it was
The relationship resulted in many rewards. By meeting Henry, Lucy found someone
who helped her come to terms with her new lifestyle, her amnesia and would
always love her regardless. The two married, had a daughter and took off on a
boat where Henry was able to follow his dream of studying ocean aquatic life.
• Lucy and Henry represented two
people who could have easily let
the costs of their relationship
break them, but instead, proved
that when the rewards outweigh
the costs as they did, love can
withstand any challenges that
could face it.
Interpersonal Needs Theory
Interpersonal Needs Theory is “the premise that all of us have inclusion, affection, and
control needs that we try to meet through our relationships, although our need for
each of these varies in degree from person to person” (176).
It can be that at times Lucy and Henry had different needs for inclusion, affection and
control throughout the course of their relationship. At first, Henry craved Lucy’s
affection while she denied his. As Henry began to get his way, Lucy’s life was truly
benefitted by his presence and her need for his affection grew in its own way. She kept
a journal of her time with Henry to read each morning and when she did, she continued
to see Henry because as a friend and lover, he fulfilled interpersonal needs and became
an important part of her life even if she had to remind herself of that every day.
It can be said that in some ways, Henry was more
interpersonally needy than Lucy. He remembered
and thrived off of his relationship with her, seeking
inclusion in her life and all she did. On the other
hand, Lucy loved Henry, but without his
persistence and constant daily presence, she
would forget that he existed and be able to move
on without loss of inclusion, affection or control.
Henry did not have the ability or want the ability to
forget that he needed Lucy.
Other-centered messages are “communications that focus on the needs of the
person requiring support through active listening and expressions of
compassion, understanding, and encouragement” (273).
As was the common trend throughout the movie and this analysis, several
characters proved to be there for and cater to the needs of the vulnerably Lucy
through listening, practicing compassion, understanding and encouragement.
A few scenes following Lucy finally finding out about her amnesia, Henry
volunteered to take her to the neurologist so the two could hear the news from
the doctor himself about her diagnosis. Since Lucy obviously needed
support, compassion and a listening ear to help her sort through the devastating
news, Henry became that person for her. Although Lucy would forget receiving the
news and need to be reminded each day by video how her life changed day by
day, Henry remembered it all and employed other-centered messages daily to be
the support the love of his life needed.
• 50 First Dates and Lucy and Henry’s relationship serves as an
interesting case study in communication practices.
• Based around a relationship that
had to start anew each day, the
discussed concepts contributed to
the couple’s ability to overcome
the very things, including major
differences in communication
methods, that threatened to tear
• Google Images.
• Verderber, K.S., Verderber, R.F. Inter-Act: