PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Personal identity
CHARACTERS: Lenny (Guy Pearce, lead character with memory disorder), Teddy (bad cop), Natalie (bar tender), James Grantz (drug dealer), Sammy Jankis (another man with a similar memory disorder)
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: Following (1998), Insomnia (2002)
SYNOPSIS: After witnessing his wife’s murder, Lenny becomes afflicted with short term memory loss. If he’s distracted, he permanently loses the train of his thought, and, even if undistracted, his recent memories are wiped clean when he falls asleep. Bent on solving his wife’s murder, he tattoos clues on his body and is in search for a mysterious suspect named “John G.” At one point he discovers that he is being manipulated by a corrupt cop who has him perform various assignations, deluding Lenny that the target is John G. In response, Lenny sets in motion a series of events and clues that result in Lenny killing the cop. To allow the audience to experience Lenny’s problem, the scenes in the movie appear in reverse-chronology – later events appearing first, and events scenes presented last.
1. In an interview, Nolan stated that the character’s memory disorder creates an interesting problem surrounding his identity, namely reconciling who he was in the past (which he remembers) with his present circumstances, which he only partly grasps. What’s the connection between this and virtue theory?
2. Lenny states, “The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eyes, does it? My actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. My wife deserves vengeance, and it doesn’t make any difference whether I know about it.” Do you agree?
3. Lenny argues that memories are unreliable and, thus, his condition has no real impact on his ability to discover truth. “Memory’s not perfect. It’s not even that good. Ask the police, eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The cops don’t catch a killer by sitting around remembering stuff. They collect facts, make notes, draw conclusions. Facts, not memories: that’s how you investigate. I know, it’s what I used to do. Memory can change the shape of a room or the color of a car. It’s an interpretation, not a record. Memories can be changed or distorted and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” Lenny’s fact-collecting method relied on Polaroids, tattoos and notes, which served as a kind of surrogate memory. If he didn’t have these devices, what would be left of his fact-collecting method?
4. When Lenny jots down Teddy’s license number, he asks: “Do I lie to myself to be happy? In your case, Teddy... yes, I will.” What alternative did Lenny have to keep Teddy from continually using him as a killing machine?
5. The movie closes with Lenny saying, “We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.” Lenny’s “mirrors” were his memory devices. What sort of “mirrors” do people with normal memories rely on to remind themselves who they are?
6. The short story upon which Memento was based concludes with the following: “Time is three things for most people, but for you, for us, just one. A singularity. One moment. This moment. Like you're the center of the clock, the axis on which the hands turn. Time moves about you but never moves you. It has lost its ability to affect you. What is it they say? That time is theft? But not for you. Close your eyes and you can start all over again. Conjure up that necessary emotion, fresh as roses. Time is an absurdity. An abstraction. The only thing that matters is this moment. This moment a million times over. You have to trust me. If this moment is repeated enough, if you keep trying—and you have to keep trying—eventually you will come across the next item on your list.” If Lenny lost only his short-term memory, but not his long-term memory, would the previous discussion make any sense?