Memento is striking and a challenging film to watch. As a sort of glimpse into the world of Leonard Shelby, a man who cannot make new memories, the narrative is comprised of scenes pasted together in reverse sequence. A man walks into a bar, looks at the note in his hand, and does what it says. We have no idea why he is there. Neither does he. After a brief exchange with the barmaid, the scene ends, and we open on this same man, driving down the highway and stopping at the bar, walking in.

Each scene is a moment on its own - we don't know what has come before, because we have not been shown. We only know what will happen, because that is the scene that just finished. It is an excercise in concentration, at first, to link the end of the second sequence you see to the beginning of the preceding scene. A stimulating exercise, and disconcerting. The only reason we don't know the events that led up to whatever we are observing is that we haven't been through it yet - but Leonard doesn't remember, regardless.

Leonard is bent on avenging his wife's rape and murder, the same incident that left him with this condition. His method for remembering things is writing notes on Polaroid shots, which he will not believe if they are not his own handwriting. This brings a whole new dimension to photographic memory. Clues to the murderer get tattooed on his body, when he is certain of them. When he pieces clues together to form a conclusion, he has to write this conclusion down, too, and what action his conclusion should lead to, or else he will not remember it.

We take things for granted - some things we know. This is water, it will be wet when it spills. But that is only because we remember it, we have seen it before, ever since, and learned. This is glass, it will break if I throw it at the wall, but this I know from the past, from life. Things like this Leonard knows, because they were truths he encountered before the 'incident'. But trust - how does one develop trust if they have no recollection of a person at all? And pain - how does one heal, if there is no seeming passage of time, if the last thing you remember is still your wife dying? Closeness, and love - there can be no way of developing these, if there is never recognition, no familiarity.

It is only a small glimpse, harrowing, of what it must be like to live without new memories. Snatches of time - but you can't be sure you have met this person before, without shuffling through your photographs, and you can't know whether or not you actually took that photograph unless it has your handwriting on it. You don't know what you have done 10 minutes before, you don't know if you have met this person before, you don't become familiar with their inflections and smells and mannerisms, because all you remember is now.

Harrowing, powerful, and thought-provoking.

Memento has many elements which fascinate me.

Memory is an obvious theme throughout the movie. What is interesting is that there are two intertwined sets of scenes which converge at the end of the movie. The first is in color and goes backwards. These scenes are presented to the audience much in the way Leonard sees them -- we have no knowledge (recollection for Leonard) of events which preceded them, so we interpret things as we see fit. The second set of scenes is in black & white and proceeds in a linear (forward) fashion, yet mostly deals with a secondary story of Sammy and his wife. These scenes present a traditional storytelling view as we await what happens between the cuts of these scenes, trying to anticipate what happens based on past history.

Another theme is reality/truth. Leonard takes polariods and has tattoos to remind him of facts -- people, places, and events. In one point of the movie, Teddy tells Leonard that these things are meaningless for Leonard since he can't verify these things without memory. Leonard mentions to Teddy that photographs are real -- memories can fade with time or can change, but things such as photographs resist these factors. (Forgive me, I'm paraphrasing here from my own unreliable memory of the movie) However, we see at the end that the polaroids and comments written on those snapshots serve only to reinforce a warped view of reality. Towards the ending, through Leonard's monologue while in the car(s), we see that facts can be bent to provide different 'truths', and, in short, we do define our own realities and memories. In fact, only Teddy, who Leonard dubbed as a liar, is aware of the real truth.

Lastly, one of the many aspects of the film I enjoyed was the twists and turns of the story. In the beginning of the movie, we are led to believe that Teddy is scum while Natalie and Leonard are victims. Because of circumstances we learn later, it is Teddy who I feel somewhat sorry for; he is the only one who seems to care about Leonard, even though he is a crooked cop who uses Leonard. Natalie is manipulative with various 'faults' of her own and not the caring, sweet, poor victim we once thought her to be. Leonard, too, is not the vengeful widower initially portrayed, but he is very warped. His own condition does not allow him to savor a sense of justice. It may even be argued that he doesn't want to believe that he can attain a sense of closure. He cannot live in the present, and he cannot accept that his wife left him and that he cannot live a functional life. Instead, this mission of searching for John G. is the only way in which he can continue living. Hence, whenever he tracks down John G. and achieves relief at that moment, we are led to assume that he will only destroy those polaroids and never tattoo his left chest. Searching for John G. is the only purpose he has left in life, a purpose which, through deceiving himself, he will keep alive.

There are many other intriguing (at least, for me) aspects of the movie -- Doesn't the name "Lenny" remind you of the character (and his 'condition') in Of Mice and Men? I think I may go see it a second time to see if I can understand this great movie better.
Memento- the film

"Does the world disappear when we close our eyes? Does it?"

The film is about memories and the transience of our existence and false beliefs and real beliefs and human relationships and trust and the future and the past and our reasons for living. It is about existentialism. It is both a story told backwards and forward. What would it matter if you could not distinguish one day from another? Another quote from the film:

"What do you care, you won't remember tomorrow anyway."

The beauty of the film is in its rich textures-the switching back between color, black and white and sharp flashbulb bright glare that moves in between shots. Nothing is fade to black. It is also beautiful in the way it shows in painful detail how frightening it would be to wake every day not knowing how you got there and what happened the day before. And the day before that.

The movie feels like a hangover; a drug induced stupor. You can't trust your eyes and you learn that what the characters remember may not be real memories. They are only a version of the truth they are trying to recall. If we question the reality of our memory, if we don't trust the memories of others where is the ground, what are we walking on?

When you watch Memento you have that walking on a glass sidewalk feeling. You know you won't fall to the ground below-hundreds of feet below you. But you don't dare look down. This is one film that will stay with you, or at least your memory of it will.

This movie was based on a short story by the brother of the director. Or at least, it was based on the idea of that short story -- it wasn't actually written at the time Christopher Nolan heard about it. But it was intriguing enough for him to get his brother's permission and start working on the screenplay in fairly short order.

That short story, titled "Memento Mori," is included on the DVD of the movie Memento. Its main character is not named the same as the movie's, but it's essentially the same guy and the story forms a prequel of sorts. Once you've seen the film, you can read the story and find out a few things about the main character that the movie doesn't discuss, and his motivations make much more sense.

Sitting between these two media is a Web site at http://www.otnemem.com which is also included in its entirety on the DVD. It doesn't discuss the movie much, but collects a series of photographs, news clippings, notes and writings directly from the movie and from the events around it. They partially bridge the gap between the short story and the film, and fill in Leonard's motivations even further.

It's an interesting way to use multiple media to tell a complete story, really -- literature, film, and multimedia each telling part of the story's whole. It's also a very effective use of the DVD media to give the interested viewer something besides the usual deleted scenes and behind-the-camera tripe. Of course, you really ought to watch the movie first. The other two would just spoil it all for you.

One of the main philosophies of John Locke is that our consciousness is formed by the memories and experience that we have had. Leonard Shelby cannot remember anything that has happened since the death of his wife, so according to Locke’s viewpoint he should have remained the exact same person since then. But over the course of the film it has become obvious that Leonard has changed, he has gone from a mild-mannered insurance investigator to a cold-blooded killer. And even though Leonard cannot remember all the killings he has done, they still seem to have affected him in some way. The fact that he is so willing to use his condition to set himself up to kill Teddy says something about how his psyche has changed since the attack on his wife. His lust for revenge and all of the murders he has committed has turned Leonard into a remorseless machine.

According to Locke, Leonard is still guilty of committing those crimes because, although he cannot consciously remember them, they have still changed him as a person. He is no longer the innocent victim, but instead an executioner. They have also changed how the audience percieves him. Initially Leonard can be seen as a sympathetic character, a man trying to overcome his condition and gain vengeance for his murdered wife. After the film we realize that the shooting of Teddy was all a setup and that there is now no stopping Leonard.

WARNING: THIS NODE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.


Reading the past nodes, I noticed that no one has gone into detail about the Sammy Jankis sub-story. It seems to be quite important seeing as how the monochrome scenes mostly deal with who Sammy was and why Leonard feels the need to remember him.

To give background on Sammy: Leonard met Sammy through the company Leonard worked for which was an insurance company. Leonard was a claims investigator. After being in an accident, Sammy developed the same condition that Leonard is paralyzed with. Because Leonard detected a hint of recognition when he went to visit Sammy, he decided that Sammy needed to do more tests to figure out if he was faking. According to research done by Leonard, a person may forget short-term memories, but through repetition and conditioning, he/she may be able to learn something new. The section of the brain dealing with conditioning and acting on instinct is separate from the section that controls the formation of new memories.

Sammy was given a test. He was told to pick up three objects on a table. Some of those objects were electrified. Based on Leonard's findings, Sammy should have, after many trials, learned to not pick up the objects that would shock him. But he never did. Sammy continued to pick up the same objects and continued to get shocked over and over again. The insurance company denied Sammy and his wife their claim on the basis that his disability to form new memories was a psychological condition and not a physical one. Psychological conditions weren't covered under the Jankis's insurance plan.

Upon hearing that her husband's condition was thought to be psychological, Mrs. Jankis conducted her own little tests on him. For example, she would have him hide food around the house. Her thinking was that when he was hungry enough, he would suddenly start to remember short-term and be able to find the food. He couldn't. Mrs. Jankis tried desperately to get Sammy to "snap out of it." She thought he was the same Sammy now that he was then. If she thought that his condition was physical, something she knew he couldn't control, then she could learn to let go of the old Sammy and start loving the new Sammy (according to Leonard). As a last attempt, she went to see Leonard to get his opinion. She asked him what he really thought about Sammy's illness. Leonard, thinking she just wanted an answer regardless of what was said, told Mrs. Jankis that he thought Sammy's condition was psychological and not physical.

Ecstatic that there was still hope, she went home to her husband to conduct one final test. Mrs. Jankis was diabetic. Her husband administered her insulin. He knew how to do this because he learned before his accident. One day, she looked at him and said, "Honey, it's time for my shot." He smiled at her, got her syringes and insulin ready and proceeding to inject it into her arm. He put the stuff up and sat back down on the chair. She turned her watch back, looked at him and said, "Honey, it's time for my shot." He smiled at her, got her stuff ready and injected the insulin into her stomach. He put the stuff up and sat back down. She repeated this one or two more times (I can't remember, no pun intended). Finally, Mrs. Jankis went into an insulin-induced coma and never came out of it. Sammy was placed in either a home or a mental asylum. He was, as Leonard called him, a dog waiting to be pat on the head. He didn't even realize his wife was dead.

The reason Leonard feels the need to remember Sammy is because Leonard was wrong when he made his "diagnosis" of Sammy. Sammy wasn't a con man. His brain just didn't respond to conditioning. The recognition Leonard thought he saw in Sammy's eyes was a bluff. "If you think you're supposed to recognize somebody, you pretend to, you bluff it."

However, this is not the end of Sammy. Sammy goes much much further into the depths of Leonard's psyche. Leonard is Sammy, in some respects. As Teddy later explains in the movie, Sammy never had a wife. Leonard's wife survived the assault. Leonard's wife was diabetic. AND Leonard's wife died of an insulin-induced coma.

There are some scenes that point to this conclusion. In the scene where Sammy is shown sitting in a chair in a home, for a split second, Leonard is shown in the place of Sammy. I didn't even notice it the first two times I watched the movie. The other scene that seems to indicate the same is the scene where Leonard is having a flashback of his wife. She's brushing her hair and you see her say ow and look down at her thigh. Leonard is giving her an insulin shot. We see the same scene immediately after this one, but when his wife looks down at her thigh, Leonard is just playfully pinching her (this scene was also shown earlier in the movie). The only thing that doesn't make sense about this theory is that, if Leonard's story of Sammy is really a tangled, half made-up, half truth of his own life, then how would Leonard remember Sammy's (Leonard's) wife dying of an overdose of insulin? This happened after the incident where Leonard lost his ability to form new memories.

The only point in this node was to shed some light on the Sammy Jankis story. Basically, Leonard lives in his own reality and distorts the truth to believe what he wants to believe. One example is when Teddy tells him that the police file Leonard has was complete when Teddy gave it to him. But there are twelve pages missing. Leonard doesn't know who took them out, but Teddy tells him that Leonard did it ("to create a puzzle he couldn't solve). Another clear example of this is when kills Jimmy. Teddy tells him the truth, which Leonard does remember for a little bit, until he's distracted by some other thought ("Can I just let myself forget what you've told me?"). To fool himself into thinking that Teddy did not tell him the truth, he writes on the back of Teddy's photograph "Do not believe his lies." He knows he'll forget his motive behind why he wrote this, but he also knows that he'll believe his own handwriting, not questioning the motive.

Leonard manipulates the truth, knowing full well he won't know he's done it. So he goes on, believing what he wants to believe, but not the truth, which he thinks is the truth because photographs and notes = facts.

Me*men"to (?), n.; pl. Mementos (#). [L., remember, be mindful, imper. of meminisse to remember. See Mention.]

A hint, suggestion, token, or memorial, to awaken memory; that which reminds or recalls to memory; a souvenir.

Seasonable mementos may be useful. Bacon.

 

© Webster 1913.

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