Memento Review By: Cindy Wang
Cindy Wang Daae Jung Writing Composition 24 October 2013 Memento Review
Memento is a noir psychological thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It is based off of Nolan’s younger brother Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori.” This movie takes us through the journey of a man with short term amnesia avenging his wife’s death. Leonard Shelby is an ex insurance investigator whose wife was violently raped and murdered. The same people that killed his wife also caused Leonard to lose his short term memory. His attention span lasts for about fifteen minutes and even less if he is stressed. As a result of his inability to remember anything after the incident, Leonard takes notes and polaroid pictures to help him recall the course of his day. In addition, he tattoos important information throughout his body in an order that is legible when he looks into the mirror. Leonard receives help from two people throughout the movie, Teddy and Natalie. Teddy is a corrupt cop that claims to be Leonard’s friends, but Leonard senses he cannot trust him. On the other hand, Natalie is sympathetic barmaid that also lost someone important in her life.
Film noirs are crime dramas shot in Hollywood style. They typically convey a sense of pessimism, distrust, fear, uncertainty and suspicion. Popular elements of film noirs include the use of black and white lighting, overly ambitious protagonist, corrupt authority figure and a femme fatale. On the other hand, a psychological thriller is an unreal horror story with an exciting plot that typically centers around crime. It is different from a regular thriller because the characters are exposed to danger mentally rather than physically. Memento is considered a film noir because it includes all the popular elements included in one. The flashback scenes were all displayed in black and white, Leonard is persistent about avenging his wife’s murderer, Teddy is a corrupt cop manipulating Leonard and Natalie is a seductive bar waitress. In addition, Memento is a thriller because of the suspense and unawareness of what will happen next. It is psychological because it revolves around a man that is fabricating clues that lead to his wife’s killer in his mind. He is forcing himself to believe that the killer is alive and he must not trust anyone around him in order to avoid danger. There are many popular psychological thrillers such as Inception and Shutter Island however, Memento is different and distinctive because it is told backwards. Psychological films typically require more focus and thinking from the audience, but one told in reverse order challenges the audience even more. Unlike most film noirs, Memento is made up of two storylines. One moves in chronological order in time while the other one is told in reverse order with overlapping flashbacks. The movie opens up with a shooting scene and a confused Leonard not aware of what just happened. After that, events that build up to the scene are gradually revealed one by one and finally, the movie closes with the full
shooting scene. Throughout the movie, I realized that all scenes occurring in present time were shot with color while all the flashbacks were black and white. The color scenes demonstrating Leonard’s current life at the moment were moving forward with time, but all the flashbacks were revealed backwards. The movie frequently alternates between color scenes and black and white scenes. Although telling the story in reverse order kept the audience on the edge of their seats and interested, it also created some confusion. However, it appeared to be the goal of the director, Chris Nolan, to keep his audience confused and hanging on a cliff. Nolan wanted to keep the viewers guessing, a lot of it is interpretations not just evidence. Leonard conceals his traumatic memory as the life of Sammy Jankis, a character he created. Sammy Jankis was the man Leonard was in charge of investigating while he was still working as an insurance investigator. Just like Leonard, Sammy also had the same malady, short term memory loss. However, Leonard’s investigation proved that Sammy’s illness was a mental problem and everything was made up in his head. It was not that Sammy was incapable of remembering, but he refused to remember. Therefore, he was not entitled to any compensation money and his wife only wanted her husband to return to his old self again. As a result, Sammy’s wife tested various methods to persuade her husband to snap out of his “mind games”, but ultimately failed. Finally, she resorted to asking her husband to inject insulin into her body which was normal because she had diabetes. But, because he could not remember he continued to
inject shots after shots until she eventually died. Sammy could not accept the fact that he killed his wife and ends up in a mental hospital. However, in reality Sammy did not have a wife and records proved he faked his illness. Towards the end of the film, Teddy reveals to Leonard that his wife had actually survived the accident. The cause of her death was from the assault, but from Leonard himself. He unintentionally killed his own wife by injecting too much insulin into her body. He was not able to remember if the he had already given her the medication so he continued to do so until her body could not take it. In complete shock, Leonard shoots Teddy and drags his body into the basement. It was not that he could not remember, but more of he did not want to remember. Living without the ability to remember is not pleasant and the only thing that kept him going was avenging the death of his wife. Since he discovered that he was the one that killed her, there will be nothing to motivate him to live his life. Leonard wanted to continue living his life with a goal so he disregarded the truth and hid himself behind Sammy Jankis. He would rather continue hunting and killing innocent men than accept the truth. Identity defines us, it is who we are and what we stand for. Our past experiences and memories shapes us and makes us who we are today. However, people choose the memory they want to remember and bury the bad one. Therefore, they create their own identities the way they want to be remembered and the version they want to be viewed by others. Leonard could not accept the fact that his wife died because of him and he was the one that killed her. He would rather sacrifice innocent
people like Teddy than continue to live his life with anger, disappointment and hatred towards himself. Leonard cannot make new memories, but he can alter his current ones to satisfy his impression of himself before the accident. He wanted to remember himself as a good husband that loved his wife very much and was willing to overcome any obstacle to avenge her death. Sometimes people yearn for the truth so bad that when the truth is presented to be different from what they expect, they consider it to be unacceptable. As a result, they construct their own version of the truth to satisfy their perception. People usually forgive with time as time heals all wounds. However, Leonard cannot make new memories so he is unable to experience the passage of time. Therefore, the memory of his wife being brutally raped and murdered is his last and most fresh memory. The pain will always be raw and grudging as if the traumatic incident just happened. He cannot let go because the memory is so clear and vivid to him. It will never fade because Leonard lives in the past and cannot create new memories. On the other hand, because he cannot create new memories revenge would be pointless. Even if Leonard were to successfully kill the man that caused this tragedy, he would very soon forget it. At one point Leonard is told by the motel clerk, “Even if you get revenge, you're not going to remember it,” but he replies “My wife deserves revenge whether or not I remember it.”
This movie has a terrible ending that does not fill all the empty holes it has created. There was no concrete explanation of what happened, the audiences are left to assume. We do not know for sure who is good, who is bad and who can and cannot be trusted. According to Teddy, Leonard is nuts and it was not Sammy that ended up in the mental hospital but Leonard. This triggers a brief flashback where we see Leonard himself there. Additionally, when Leonard was sitting in Natalie’s house there was another quick flashback of Leonard preparing injection shots for his wife. Did Leonard really kill his wife? Or, is Teddy fabricating all this up? Despite all the confusion, Memento is extraordinary film that challenges the audience and puts them on a roller coaster ride throughout the movie.