The mind is a dangerous place, and memories can lead you down the wrong path. This week, Zach gets educated on a different type of storytelling with Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

Memento is presented as two different sequences of scenes: a series in black-and-white that is shown chronologically, and a series of color sequences shown in reverse order. The two sequences “meet” at the end of the film, producing one common story. It stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man with anterograde amnesia, which impairs his ability to store new explicit memories, who has developed a system for recollection using hand-written notes, tattoos, and Polaroid photos. During the opening credits, which portray the end of the story, it is shown that Leonard kills Teddy (Joe Pantoliano). The film suggests that this killing is vengeance for the rape and murder of his wife (Jorja Fox) based on information provided by Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).

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  1. When I was a little kid I suffered from a head injury and actually had this type of memory loss for a very short term (the rest of the day). The conversation on the trip to the emergency room is referenced as a family joke.

    “Where are we going?”
    “To the doctor.”
    “Because you hit your head.”
    “Oh. Where are we going?…”

    Only thing I remember about it is being at a store afterwards with my parents and asking them when we were going to go see “The Great Muppet Caper,” only to have my parents reassure me that we had gone earlier in the morning before the accident. I do now have extremely vague and surreal memories of the movie itself–I don’t know how much of that surreal feel to the memories is from the actual movie, from the normal haze you get on 30+ year old memories, or from the head injury.

    And of course I always have the go to joke when I tell people about it and they ask “What was it like?”

    I don’t remember.

  2. Living with epilepsy, I encounter issues with my memory (both short-term and long-term). I do not have problems actively learning things, but I do have issues with passive learning. Conversations (and in-depth discussions) can be lost, but the ability to learn new skills or information has not been affected.

    Additionally, the continuing seizures have caused me to lose a large amount of past memories (although they occasionally return in bursts).

    I say all of this as an explanation to the question of Leonard knowing he has a condition. Although we do not see him reminding himself of the condition, his actions imply that he has to remind himself: the bathroom/shower and chase scenes specifically. Like us, he does not actively examine the big picture until he has a chance to stop and notice the world (and tattoos) around him.

    Also, from a narrative point of view, how many audience members would begin saying “Enough, already!” if Leonard was shown reading a tattoo or note that says “You have a condition” every time the scene changes?

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