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MEMENTO (2001)


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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

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?

REVIEWS

The major issue in this film is personal identity. I thought this film was very clever and unique. Director Christopher Nolan almost allows the audience to experience Lenny’s short-term memory loss with his creative method of showing scenes of the film in reverse order in time. After the death of his wife, Lenny loses his ability to retain short-term memories. He still has the ability to recall all of his old memories, including who he is and everything up until the death of his wife, but he has lost the ability to create new ones. In order to remind himself that “John G.” has killed his wife, he gets a large tattoo across his chest. He does this for each clue that will lead him to his wife’s killer and he keeps record of the people he meets by taking their picture and making notes on them. When I watched this film, I found it hard to determine whether you could still consider Lenny to be the same person with his lack of short-term memory. As he got closer to finding his wife’s killer, he was tricked by a woman and she removed anything Lenny could use to write down what happened from her house, which was his only way of knowing. The woman left, and then came back several minutes later, when Lenny had forgotten about her. Later on in the film, Teddy, who is supposed to be a friend of Lenny, explains to him that he has already killed his wife’s killer and he hasn’t ever been able to recall this or feel satisfied so Teddy has led him along, finding him new John G.’s to kill, hoping that he will remember one day and feel satisfied. Throughout the film, Teddy has turned Lenny into a killing machine. But could you really say that Lenny has changed? I don’t think it would be completely true to say that he has. Because Lenny can only really recall all of his old memories and he has to get tattoos to remember new ones, I feel that he is still the same person because to him, it’s as if the new memories are just made up. Each new day he decides how he feels about each little detail written on his body, but the only thing that makes him remember who he is are his long-term memories, which will never change… or will they? This is a great, thought-provoking film that really keeps you involved and keeps you guessing. -- Yee Haw

This was an excellent film. I think it could be enjoyed by anyone. It involved mystery and suspense, and unlike Total Recall, which tried to do the same, was still intellectually compelling. During the film, the viewer feels sorry for Lenny and frustrated for him at the same time. I tried to sympathize with him and understand how he could trust anyone while being in this situation. Everyone he did trust seemed to end up hurting him in some way or another. The more I tried to figure out the plot the more I got lost in the film, and even though I had no idea what to think or to believe, I still enjoyed the ride. Director Christopher Nolan did a wonderful job by telling the story backwards so that the viewer would be just as confused as Lenny. Other reviewers noted that even though this out-of-sequence concept of filming has become popular over the past few years, Nolan really makes it work for this movie. I would have to agree them. Even after it was all over, I still felt no sense of closure and was just as confused as I had been during the whole movie, but that didn’t take away from the movie for me. I actually think I would have liked it less had the loose ends been neatly tied together. -- Back from the Dead


 
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