Philosophical Themes in "Memento"

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Ben Lara
Dr. Stephen Asma

The film Memento tells the story of a man named Leonard with a condition. His condition prohibits him from making and storing new memories. He is able to remember everything up until the night his wife was murdered, the same night he got the injury that caused his condition. Every morning, Lenny wakes up knowing only one thing, “I am.” It closely mirrors the conclusion made by Decartes in his second meditation, “I think, therefore I am.”

When Lenny wakes up or when he comes back from a memory fade, he is only aware of himself. He has no idea about his present thoughts, memories, or emotions. He isn’t aware of the events going on around him. In this situation, Lenny is pretty much a skeptic. He cannot trust the world around him. He doesn’t know what is real or fake, the truth or a lie. He only knows himself. Hume’s theory that the self is a bundle of different facets that all add up to the being is presented in this movie. These facets include memories, thoughts, and experiences. Lenny is unable to hold on to these, seemingly ending any idea of who he is. However, Lenny doesn’t want to accept this and instead catalogs all the information he needs for his goal using polaroids, notes, and even tattoos.

These mementos along with his memory from before the accident come together to form his reality. From that point, he has to trust himself and his instincts to ensure that he’s right. It is revealed that Lenny knowingly tricks himself into performing actions in order give his apparently meaningless life some sort of value. Lenny’s reality is completely different from actual reality. He has no sense of truth, his perceptions deceive him, and he has no idea who he really is as a person. He is truly a skeptic. So what then is the truth? For Lenny it doesn’t matter, because he will forget it in a few minutes anyways.
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