Memento

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Memento is a film written and directed by Christopher Nolan based on his brother Jonathan's short story "Memento Mori". It stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss. and Joe Pantoliano. The film was released in 2000 to widespread critical acclaim, and received a Golden Globe (best screenplay) and two Oscar (best screenplay and best editing) nominations.

The film consists entirely of an intricately woven pattern of flashbacks. While the black and white sequences progress chronologically forward in time, the color scenes are arranged in reverse order. Thus the opening (color) scene of the film is chronologically the last event in the story. The opening scene is shown in reverse motion to clue watchers in to the film's scene progression.

Key themes of the film include the nature of memory, identity, time, revenge and reality.

Tagline: Some memories are best forgotten.

Contents

Plot

Memento can be summarized as it is seen in the film, in reverse chronological order, or as the events actually happen, in chronological order. Because the film is viewed backwards, as it progresses the plot becomes more cohesive and further revealed. However to get a basic plot summary, it is easier to view the plot in sequential order. The film leaves the viewer with many questions that can be answered in different ways. These various interpretations will be discussed later. Realizing that there is some ambiguity surrounding these different interpretations, the following is a general overview of the film.

The film follows the point of view of Leonard (Guy Pearce). Leonard believes that his wife was raped and killed in a struggle in his house. In the struggle, Leonard was badly hurt, causing him to suffer from severe anterograde amnesia (also called "anterograde memory dysfunction"). Leonard is unable to form new memories, so he only remembers incidents from before the struggle. In order to remember events he keeps notes and photos and tattoos himself with the most important things he needs to remember. Leonard's goal is to take revenge on the man who raped and murdered his wife, and he uses these notes to keep track of whatever clues he has gained about the murderer.

Leonard was a clever insurance investigator before his accident. He was skilled at reading people to determine if they were lying. His first major case dealt with Sammy Jankis, a victim of short-term memory loss. Using a series of seemingly easy tests, based on instinct and not memory, Leonard concluded that Sammy was faking his memory loss, which caused Sammy's insurance to be cut off. Leonard relates how after that incident Sammy's wife, a diabetic, either believing that Sammy's condition was mental and that he could snap out of it or intending to commit suicide, repeatedly asks Sammy to inject her with her shot of insulin, waiting a few minutes in between shots. Sammy, unable to remember his actions after a few minutes have passed, repeatedly administers the shot and his wife dies of insulin poisoning.

After Leonard has fallen victim to the same disorder, Leonard realizes that the look of recognition he would see in Sammy's eyes was faked. Sammy, wanting to remember, had pretended to recognize people he guessed he was supposed to know.

After Leonard tells Sammy's story, the audience is introduced to a cop named Teddy who was assigned to investigate the death of Leonard's wife, and who eventually becomes friends with Leonard. Leonard helps him try to find the murderer, a man that Leonard knows only as John G.

At the end of the movie, Leonard thinks he has gotten his revenge, but he realizes that he has been manipulated by Teddy. The man that he has killed is actually a drug dealer named Jimmy Grantz, and Teddy is merely using this as a way to take the dealer's money.

In that scene, Teddy tells Leonard that he will tell him the whole story of what has happened. He says that Leonard has in fact killed the real John G., several years ago (and, in fact, many other people by the same name after that). John G., however, was not responsible for the death of Leonard's wife, only her rape. In fact, Leonard himself is responsible for his wife's death. She survived the assault but, frustrated with Leonard's condition, overdosed on insulin administered by Leonard. Teddy insists that Sammy didn't have a wife, meaning that Leonard transferred that memory from his story to Sammy's.

Leonard refuses to believe this, and proceeds to make himself forget (which doesn't take long due to his condition). Before he forgets, Leonard writes "Do not believe his lies" on Teddy's picture and makes a note for himself to get a tattoo of a license plate number, writing down the number on Teddy's car. Leonard concludes that all people deceive themselves, and that the only thing different is that he is, for the moment, aware of his self-deception. He pulls up to the tattoo parlor just as he forgets, reads the note, and goes inside to get his new tattoo.

After that, Leonard is misdirected by a note from Jimmy Grant's girlfriend Natalie. She watches Leonard pull up in Jimmy's car, wearing his suit which he had taken after killing him. She decides to test him and see if he is telling the truth about his memory loss. She finally decides to use Leonard to get rid of a man named Dodd.

Leonard is obsessed with figuring out his own puzzle but believes that he should help out Natalie. In a chase scene, Leonard ends up escaping the person he is chasing and running from (Dodd), and ends up in Dodd's hotel room. Leonard captures Dodd and puts him in the closet bound and gagged. Soon he has forgotten why, and he panics, so he gets Teddy to help get rid of him. They put Dodd in the car, and he apparently leaves town.

Upon hearing that Dodd is out of the picture, Natalie agrees to help find out whose license plate he has tattooed on his leg. Leonard is very surprised that it is actually Teddy who owns the car. Teddy's real name is John Edward Gammel — John G.. Leonard kills Teddy, and this is the murder with which the movie begins.

Questions and interpretations

The story of the movie is mostly in reverse chronological order, to reflect the point of view of the main character, Leonard. Like Leonard, the viewer is aware of what is going on in the current scene, but unaware of the events that preceded the scene. Most of what the viewer knows about the past in the story comes from Leonard's tattoos, photos, and notes, as this is how Leonard remembers the past. However, it is quite possible that Leonard has forgotten to write down some crucial pieces of information, and at the end of the movie, Leonard engages in an act of self-deception. Teddy and Natalie also manipulate Leonard based on their knowledge of his condition.

Understanding the events of the film depends on two stories, both of which are, to the audience, highly suspect -- Leonard's story about Sammy, and Teddy's story about Leonard. Leonard's memory of Sammy's story is possibly false, as Teddy claims that Sammy was actually unmarried and that Leonard is projecting his own story onto someone else. While Teddy is the only person in the movie who knows what happened after Leonard's accident, it is established that Teddy untrustworthy. It is unclear whether Teddy is really a police officer, whether Leonard's condition is really due to physical trauma, and whether Leonard's account, Teddy's account, or neither is true to what really happened to Sammy and to Leonard's wife.

This uncertainty emphasizes a theme of the film: people often selectively use their past experiences in defining themselves. Because Leonard can do this quite literally, he is able to manipulate his memory to create his own past and use that to define himself in the present.

Characters

Leonard

Leonard, not "Lenny", is the main character and is played by Guy Pearce. After his wife's rape and murder, he now suffers from anterograde amnesia. He uses notes, photographs, and tattoos to substitute for his missing memory. He records clues about the murderer because he hopes to have the opportunity for revenge.

Teddy

Teddy's character is played by Joe Pantoliano. Throughout the film, Teddy's actions (such as changing his name) cause his credibility to be questioned by the viewer. Although Teddy acts as if he is Leonard's friend, he uses Leonard's handicap to his advantage. He never tries to hurt Leonard physically, but he plays many psychological games in order to manipulate him. For example, Teddy constantly lies to Leonard about which car he should drive and whether he should leave town or not. Teddy's games eventually backfire, resulting in him being killed at the hands of Leonard, who no longer trusts Teddy and who has fooled himself into thinking that Teddy is his wife's murderer. At the end of the film it is revealed that Teddy has helped Leonard kill numerous "John G's" in the past, by deceiving Leonard into thinking that they killed his wife. Leonard forgets each murder immediately afterward.

Natalie

Natalie is played by Carrie-Anne Moss, who is also known for her performance in The Matrix. She befriends Leonard, and manipulates him into killing Dodd (although he does not eventually do so), a man to whom she owes a lot of money, by leading Leonard to think that Dodd has hurt him or her in some way. Though she manipulates Leonard, she appears to care about him and helps him out in his quest to find his wife's murderer.

Sammy Jankis

Sammy is played by Stephen Tobolowsky. Before Leonard's accident, Sammy was one of the clients of the insurance company Leonard worked for, and he was suffering from anterograde amnesia. Leonard's mistaken conclusions about Sammy's condition lead to Sammy losing his insurance. Sammy's condition, and his wife's refusal to believe in it, bring about her death.

Mrs Jankis

Mrs. Jankis, Sammy Jankis' wife, dies of an overdose of insulin after she manipulates her husband into repeatedly administering her insulin shot. She chose to do this either out of some hope of getting her husband to recover from his condition, or because she was unwilling to live without the old version of her husband. Mrs. Jankis is played by Harriet Sansom Harris.

Burt

Burt is played by Mark Boone Junior. He is a clerk at the motel where Leonard stays for part of the movie. Like Teddy and Natalie, he takes advantage of Leonard's condition for his own gain, by renting Leonard multiple rooms, since Leonard forgets which room he's staying in.

Dodd

Callum Keith Rennie plays Dodd. Natalie manipulates Leonard into tracking Dodd with the intention of getting Leonard to kill him. She accomplishes this by convincing Leonard that Dodd has beaten her. Dodd finds Leonard, rather than vice versa, resulting in a short chase. Dodd is after Leonard because he believes Leonard killed his drug-dealing partner, Jimmy. Leonard eludes him and plans an ambush, which results in Dodd being forced to leave town under the threat of his own gun.

Jimmy

Jimmy is Natalie's late boyfriend, played by Larry Holden. The viewer learns at the end of the film (which is actually the beginning of the story, chronologically), that he was killed by Leonard. He was the original owner of Leonard's car, which had lots of cash in the trunk. He was heavily involved in the drug business.

Critical responses

In his review of the film, long-time film critic Roger Ebert mentioned that there is one key plot-point that he does not understand; if the last thing that Leonard remembers is his wifeís death, then how does he remember that he has short-term memory loss? After watching the film twice, Ebert came to the conclusion that we are intended to be left in a state of confusion. Ebert gave the film three out of four stars. [1] (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20010413/REVIEWS/104130303/)

William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that Memento is a "delicious one-time treat". Arnold enjoyed how the film constantly makes the viewer re-examine the situation and strain to make mental links between the different scenes. Arnold also observed that Leonard's memory loss and tattoos could be a metaphor for the increasing number of passwords and number codes we are now expected to remember. [2] (http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/movies/mementoq.shtml)

TV Guide's reviewer writes that Leonard is as much of a mystery to himself as he is to the audience. Whether or not the audience is willing to surrender to its fragmented, repetitive rhythms will determine whether or not they will find Christopher Nolanís philosophical puzzle film enthralling or infuriating.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times liked Memento's noir feel and disorienting reverse chronology, calling it an "existential crossword puzzle". Scott writes that Nolan folds "straightforward events and simple motives into MŲbius strips of paradox and indeterminacy". [3] (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/16/arts/16MEME.html)

As of 2005, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) ranks Memento at number twenty-two in its list of the top 250 films of all time. IMDb's rankings are based on ratings by Internet users.

Trivia

  • Memento took twenty-five days to shoot. [4] (http://www.christophernolan.net/memento_trivia.php)
  • Teddy's phone number is the same as Marla Singerís in Fight Club, 555-0134. [5] (http://www.christophernolan.net/memento_trivia.php)
  • The tattoo parlor is named after Christopher Nolan's wife and the film's associate producer, Emma Thomas. [6] (http://www.christophernolan.net/memento_trivia.php)
  • A white Honda Civic can be seen parked next to Leonard Shelby's Jaguar at the motel; this is writer Christopher Nolanís car. [7] (http://www.christophernolan.net/memento_trivia.php)
  • Natalie's handwriting on the coaster that Lenny finds in his pocket changes from what it is just before Leonard enters Ferdy's Bar to what it is at the Tattoo Parlor. [8] (http://www.christophernolan.net/memento_goofs.php#ya)

External links

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