Can’t remember to forget you (Memento movie review)

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) wears only elegant, tailor made suits and rides the latest model of a Jaguar, but at the same time he lives in cheap, anonymous motels and pays always in cash. Although he looks like a well-situated man, who works in business, his only job is to look for a man who raped and murdered his wife. His suspicions were ignored by police officers who decided to follow a completely different path. What’s important, Leonardo voice was unheard not because of the police’s ignorance and malice, but because of the protagonist’s disease that makes his worlds doubtable… He suffers from a very rare and unidentified by modern medicine memory loss. This disease, loss of short-term memory, is characterized by the fact that Leonard remembers everything that happened in his life before the accident that caused the illness, but he cannot report what happened fifteen minutes ago. What’s interesting, the man is very well aware of his strange condition so he tries to work out a system that will allow him to life an independent life and be a danger neither for himself nor for other people. He is constantly taking notes and photos, and the most important facts are tattooed on his body.

Camera was invited as a time-capturing machine: it represents the past, but belongs to here and now. It reminds of moments that will never return; that’s why it’s also an attribute of death. The Christopher Nolan’s movie begins from a picture of a Polaroid photograph – we see a crime place: walls that are covered with blood and a body on the floor. The image slowly begins to disappear. We can guess that the chronology of the movie is reversed – we going to watch this story from behind, from the very last picture. Nevertheless, opening scene of “Memento” is not only an introduction to the movie’s convention, but also, or above all, it signalises the main problem of the movie: the loss of memories, of short-term memory: information just recorded in the mind disappears.

Nolan’s movie on the one hand is an amazing thriller, on the other – a variation and interpretation of Freud’s theory, according to which in the memory loss in most cases is caused by mental disorders. Freud believes that such a condition may be caused by unconscious contents that were removed of the mind through trauma or social regulations. The ego does not allow you to accept certain memories, which are connected to some strong, uncomfortable emotions, so they must find a different way of coming into being. This is how, in big short, neurotic symptoms can arise in one’s head and that’s the reason of Leonardo’s condition. What’s interesting, during the first part of “Memento” the director doesn’t make this reference to Freud too obvious: we see the protagonist’s disease, but we treat it rather like a result of physical trauma, and not necessarily as an unconscious self-protection.

When talking about subconscious, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) must be mentioned. At first he seems to be only Leonard’s friend, but we cannot be always sure about his intentions. In next scenes we see him on the one hand as helper, on the other – as a victim or a manipulator. His identity is liquid and changes with contexts. The director slowly makes it the fact that Teddy cannot be treated as a realistic figure, but rather as a projection of sick, psychotic mind more and more obvious.

Leonard is convinced of the reality of her experiences; as he says: “the world does not disappear when you close your eyes”) and of his ability of leading normal life that fits to the normative system and is accepted by it. This certainty is connected not only to the lack of conscious of recent actions, but also to the lack of criticism when comes to his own incorrect observations and judgments that leads to putting Teddy, who in this context becomes a representation of rationality, on the “black list” with names of people who cannot be trusted.  Negation of reality is a first step to a tragedy.

“Memento” is a psychoanalytic study of the main character, but it’s also a movie about memory and its imperfection and fallibility that in Leonard’s case is obviously hyperbolized and – thanks to this poetics of exaggeration – more appealing.