December 6, 2023

ICBYHST: Memento

ICBYHST: Or I can’t believe you haven’t seen that is a phrase you often hear in this day and age of tv and movies. There is just so much going on or it was made before your time. But these pieces for The Tailgate Society are going to focus on having people watch movies that they swear they are the last one to see

Due to the recent release of Dunkirk, this installment of I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen That covers one of Christopher Nolan’s older films – the 2000 psychological thriller, Memento.

The movie is about a man named Leonard Shelby who can no longer create new memories due to a head injury. He still has long-term memories from before the accident but absolutely no short-term recall. He forgets everything that happens to him five minutes after a specific incident occurs. This makes life extremely difficult since his only mission is to hunt down the man who gave him the head injury and raped and murdered his wife.

In short, Memento is basically a sick and twisted 50 First Dates, and I have some serious questions.

Is that Brad Pitt?

No. It’s Guy Pearce. Pitt was originally picked to play Leonard, but passed due to scheduling conflicts. So Nolan picked the next best thing. The resemblance is uncanny.

How does Leonard know he has amnesia?

If Leonard is not capable of forming new memories, there’s no way he could comprehend that he has this specific kind of amnesia, since the details of his condition wouldn’t have been explained to him until after his head injury.

During the quest to find his wife’s killer, he keeps track of the clues and evidence he finds by taking polaroids and leaving notes on them, as well as tattooing the key clues all over his body. The dude has “John G raped and murdered my wife,” tattooed backward on his chest so he is reminded of his mission every time he looks in the mirror. Creepy, yet genius. But how does he know why he needs that tattooed on his chest? He has names and license plate numbers tatted all over his bod, but negated to leave any note that says, “Hey dude, you can’t remember anything for more than five minutes.” A pretty big oversight on Nolan’s part, if you ask me.

What the hell is going on?

Nolan is best known for his cerebral and nonlinear storytelling. And for making films that Dana Melcher does not understand. Back in 2010 when everyone was ranting and raving about Inception, my response was, “Um, what?” I had an identical reaction to Memento.

First off, most of the scenes are shown in reverse order so the audience suffers the same ailment plaguing Leonard – not knowing what happened immediately prior. It’s what makes this film so Nolan-esque, as well as confusing. Some scenes are shown in chronological order, but we’re never really sure if they take place in the past or present. Plus, they’re shown from a brain damaged man’s point of view, so can they even be trustworthy? Watching Memento feels like you’re suffering from amnesia yourself.

Is Leonard’s condition a strength or weakness?

“Weakness, duh.” Having the memory of a fish would be a huge disadvantage when you’re trying to track down your spouse’s killer. But Leonard’s disability is more painful than just an inconvenience. The last memory he has is his wife’s rape and murder. As he points out, “If we can’t make memories, we can’t heal.” He’s not capable of creating new memories to dilute the most painful moment of his life.

In the end we find out that Leonard killed his wife’s attacker long ago, but he’s been continuously deceived by a “friend” who tricks him into killing others, convincing Leonard that he’s killing “John G.” Leonard learns this truth, along with the fact that his wife did not die in the attack, but died later in an accident due to Leonard’s amnesia. He learns this painful truth, but makes no note of it. He does not write the truth down; he doesn’t tattoo it on his body. He decides to use his condition to trick himself, knowing he’ll forget the truth in a few minutes and can go on living in his false reality.

Can we blame him? We’re all guilty of creating a false reality for ourselves. We do that when we have a few too many margaritas, text an ex we haven’t spoken to in years, then delete the messages, hoping that when we wake up sober we’ll have no recollection of opening a huge can of worms. We create a false reality when we hide the half dollar we receive as change at the Superdog stand so the next morning we have no proof that we stopped for a 1,000-calorie hot dog after leaving the bars the night before. Yes, being drunk is different than having amnesia, but like Leonard, if given the option to face the painful or embarrassing truth or to live obliviously, we would choose the latter. Or at least I would.

When Leonard is asked why he’s so intent on revenge when he won’t even be able to enjoy the justice in killing his wife’s attacker for more than five minutes, he replies, “Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t make my actions meaningless. The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes, does it?” He’s not wrong. Our exes still receive the drunk text message about a book we borrowed from them six years ago. The Superdog wrapper is still in the trash. Which is why it doesn’t really make sense that Leonard would choose to create his own reality when he knows that his actions still affect others, even if he can’t remember it. Yep, that’s right, the movie doesn’t make sense. Christopher Nolan, you’ve done it again. Nolan – 4, Melcher – 0.

Best quotes:

We all lie to ourselves to be happy. – Leonard Shelby

I can’t remember to forget you. – Leonard Shelby


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Dana Melcher 13 Articles
Former Staff Writer

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