The Humanity of Memory: Review of Memento

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Jake Black
Instructor Kennedy
FIL 2001
April 2011
The Humanity of Memory
The post-modern film Memento challenges its viewers to analyze the way they put together a story based on the order of events. The film follows Leonard Shelby, an amnesiac determined to avenge his wife’s brutal rape and murder. Leonard allegedly lost his ability to make new memories in a head injury when he attempted to save his wife. Leonard puts all of his energy into taking photos and writing notes that will help him remember how to react in the situations he gets into. Consequently, Leonard and the audience alike are constantly trying to figure out what’s going on, and this makes for an interesting perspective on how we ourselves interpret events.

The most significant element of this story is the backwards chain of events. While the scenes are not in chronological order, the order we see them in plays a major part in the way we interpret this story. The movie begins at the chronological end, where Leonard kills the cop Teddy. Leonard looks at the photo of Teddy and sees the caption, “DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES, HE IS THE ONE, KILL HIM.” (Memento) Leonard repeatedly says that the only thing he can trust is his own handwriting, and so he kills him. As the movie goes on, we learn to trust Leonard’s handwriting as well and are therefore suspicious of Teddy. Though the order of the narrative is confusing, it is not non-linear. Director Christopher Nolan points out that “you can’t remove a single scene, or the whole thing comes to a grinding halt. Each scene follows very tightly after the next, more closely than they would in a conventional movie.” (Nolan)

Leonard’s thought process is to try and forget the past, remember the present, and plan for the future. His inability to make new memories is keeping him from healing from the trauma of seeing his wife die. Since he cannot escape that memory, he loses his sense of humanity. It continues to be the last thing he remembers and her...
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